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

A tribute

page 181

A tribute

I wish to pay tribute to the special teachers at the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua who helped to mould me as a person. The most influential was Sister Alexandrowicz, who taught us religion. She showed us how to pray the Rosary, as well as explaining the Old Testament and how it helped us to learn about ourselves as people. To us, she was a wonderful person and full of understanding – an understanding which helped us as children in our times of loneliness.

Mrs Holownia was a brilliant historian. She never came to class with a book, teaching us everything from memory. Her descriptions were so vivid and moving that the girls were often moved to tears. Naturally, this was always the best-behaved class. Mrs Krzyżanowska was the kindest teacher and that quality made her very special. Not only were the teachers special, but there were also other treasured people and moments that I would like to highlight and pay tribute to.

Our brightest classmate Stefania Manterys ("baran", lamb, because of her wonderful curly hair), with whom I shared a dormitory, sat next to me in class. Her elder sister Rozalia often visited and spent time on Stefania's bed telling us stories, as well as enlightening us about the books she had read. These memories have stayed with me to this day. I guess a psychologist would interpret this as a need for a mother or big sister. Thank you Rozalia for those evenings, you were that to me.

Sundays were special days at the camp as we had visitors from as far as Palmerston North. Those visitors included entertainers, Maori groups and Scottish bands. In particular, I wish to express my appreciation to the Palmerston North family that befriended me. Unfortunately, due to my poor understanding of English in those early days, I wasn't able to communicate my fondness to them and over time we lost touch. The family will never read this, but nevertheless I wish to acknowledge their kindness.

My stay in the camp was only for two years, as I left to attend college in Christchurch, but it was long enough for me to make lifelong family-type bonds among these special people in my life, to care for each other and to call ourselves "one of us".