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

Political amnesty

Political amnesty

In August 1941, news reached our settlement that the Poles were granted a political amnesty. We were excited but cautious, as this could be just a rumour started by someone to cheer up and bring hope to suffering people. The Polish Government-in-Exile in London signed an agreement with Stalin for the release of Polish prisoners from the labour camps and for enlistment in a Polish army being formed to fight the Germans.

The first sign of hopefully better days was when a supply of medicine arrived from the Americans to prevent epidemics of typhoid, scarlet fever and measles. They also sent provisions but the little clothing we received we sold to the Russians for food. I started to visit Russian homes for company. They had large families, but because I was an orphan they always found a place for me at their table, with six people eating from the same bowl.

Remembering comments to get rid of me because I was an extra mouth to feed, I offered to help a neighbour with milking, knowing we would get eggs, milk and butter as a payment for my work. Normally, this was an easy job, but I was only eight years old and became very tired – the cow had to be milked twice daily, the milk strained, butter churned, chickens and pigs fed, and eggs collected. But I had good meals now.

Marushka, my employer, insisted that I drink lots of milk. Visits to her place were followed by waves of loneliness and longing for my parents. One day, Marushka held my hands and asked me to move in with her and be her daughter.

I remembered my mother's words spoken to me so many times before: "Do not speak Russian to us. Do not sing Russian songs. Communists do not believe in God. Never forget you are Polish. We must try to escape from this country." These words were deeply implanted in my mind. No matter how lonely I was, I belonged with the Poles.