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New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children

Changing districts

Changing districts

My father was not well and arranged for us to move to another kolkhoz about 80km away to live with Mrs Sokalska, whom we knew from Poland and who also had a daughter my age. It was the beginning of winter and we walked all the way.

The winter was very severe and after snow storms only the chimneys were visible. My father had to dig us out every morning, and after a few days we did not know whether it was day or night. There was no proper toilet, our fuel supplies were exhausted and there was no way we could get into the shed to get more. The supply of bread was running out and grease used to provide light in the house was gone. We sat in the dark, hungry, huddled together to keep warm and prayed it would stop snowing. Two people died in the snowdrifts.

We were all hungry and my father had too much pride to accept food from Mrs Sokalska for nothing, so he went away to seek work. Three weeks later, my father's warm jacket and a few other items arrived with a letter from the hospital confirming his death. He had died of pneumonia.

I had no one to talk to about my sadness. Mrs Sokalska seldom spoke to us and I did not have enough confidence to ask her what would happen to me now. I wished that someone would stretch out their arms and take me away from this deep loneliness to a place where the sun shone and there was plenty to eat.

The temperature sometimes dropped down to -40°C. To keep warm, we burned a lot of dried dung collected out on the steppe during the summer months. But when we began to run out of fuel, we had to pull a sled out into the steppe to pick the frozen weeds in the snow, which numbed and blistered my hands, and the return trip with the laden sled was almost beyond our endurance.

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At night, I felt lonely and insecure, and cried myself to sleep. I overheard Mrs Sokalska's friend advising her to get rid of me because I was an extra mouth to feed. Apart from Mrs Sokalska and her daughter, I had no other company and longed to be with the Polish people back in Nova Pokrovka. I worked out in my mind that God was the one with whom I could share my problems.

When I was on my own, I would say a short prayer and then would talk to Him pretending He was in front of me. Sometimes I would ask questions, to which I never heard the answers. But just when I decided to give up my conversations to the friend above as I called Him, I noticed that my mood had changed for the better.