Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

The orphanage

page 65

The orphanage

Mrs Sokalska informed me that I was to be taken to an orphanage, which was the last thing I wanted to hear and the thought of it frightened me. The longing to belong to someone or have somebody I could call my own never left me, and I envied the children who had brothers or sisters. Gradually, my predicament made me angry, which later got me into trouble many times during my stays in different institutions. I wished that I was grown up.

Upon arrival at Pavlodar, Mrs Sokalska took me to the Polish orphanage, and without showing any emotion said goodbye and departed. A woman introduced me to a girl and boy aged between 16 and 18 who seemed to be in charge of the 45 children. At teatime we had a thick slice of black bread with lard on it and something to drink. We slept on the floor covered with one blanket and no pillow.

Some of the children were only one or two years old. With no doctor and not being able to be treated, the sick ones were dying. During my stay in this place we buried two little bodies. I attended the funeral of a little girl of about three. She had been found standing outside the gate, hugging her rag doll. The older children examined her and gave her a bath. After she had been cleaned up, I thought she had the most lovely and intelligent face I had ever seen on a young child. She never smiled or cried but just looked at all of us with curiosity.

She had been left outside the gate without any explanation or a name. If it was her mother who was responsible, I can understand why she avoided telling anyone because she knew the girl would not have been accepted if it was known she had a parent. Perhaps she hoped the child would get help. Unfortunately, it was too late and three weeks later the girl died. We did not know what was wrong with her. All of us who could walk attended the funeral. Not far from the orphanage a grave was dug and the little body wrapped up in a blanket was placed in it. We said a short prayer while the two older boys covered the grave with a piece of iron. I am not sure if a cross was ever put on the grave.

Every day was the same and there was not much for us to do. Most of the children were very quiet. The older ones would sometimes tell us stories, but I do not remember anyone laughing or playing like children normally do. The meals we received were very simple – usually black bread with lard three times a day, with a thin soup for lunch. So we were undernourished. I discovered a couple of boils on my body and had difficulty sitting. With the relief warehouse only 30 metres away, we watched all the provisions being unloaded from a stationary wagon but I do not remember the children ever getting anything from it.

page 66

After two months, the orphanage was to close due to a lack of money and the children transferred to a Russian institution. We all were frightened to end up among strangers. So one day I asked a girl to escape with me to my old settlement, but she explained that her brother was too small to walk the distance and would not leave him behind. I planned my escape and started to eat only half portions, filling my pockets with bread. Because I arrived at the orphanage barefoot, I helped myself to a pair of shoes from a large box in the hallway. I felt no fear or danger.