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

My class friend Maria Chudy (Dołhun)

My class friend Maria Chudy (Dołhun)

Maria Dolhun sat next to me in class at the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua. One day a question was fired at her. She stood up slowly and I watched her face stiffen, and not a word came out of her. With my whole being I felt what she felt, because I was no stranger to that experience. She listened in silence to a harsh comment made by the teacher and sat down. From that day, Maria became a friend.

She asked to be put into employment and a few weeks later left our Standard 3 class to work in the camp's kitchen, mainly peeling potatoes and sneaking out extra bread to the boys when asked. When the camp was closed, Maria went to work at the presbytery of St Anne's Church in Newtown, Wellington, and also worked at a tobacco factory and Wellington Zoo. She has dedicated her spare moments to caring for the Polish chaplains, visiting the sick and helping people in the community. She married, and has children and grandchildren. Her Pahiatua friends also became her family. That's what camp friendship is all about.

For her dedicated hard work in the Polish community, Maria was decorated with the Krzy? Kawalerski Orderu Zasługi Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej (Merit Cross) by the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland. Maria, maybe a little embarrased, looked up and smiled at the ambassador, while everybody, myself included, raised a resounding ovation.

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