Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

Józef Pieczara's obituary

page 285

Józef Pieczara's obituary

Pronounced Pee-ar-chara. It isn't a difficult name to pronounce if you take it slowly. But to see it written down for the first time and because it is Polish, you wouldn't know which end to begin at. Consequently, Joe (Józef) has always been known up our end of the street as Mr Pole.

We have known Joe and his wife Mary as neighbours for 42 years. But known might not be the right word, as Joe was an independent and reserved person who kept pretty much to himself. However, during the last few years of his life, we became friends and would often chat about this and that, and in the process discussed many events which were going on in the world, many of which have gone on in the past, and in this way we eventually came to the events that led to Joe coming to New Zealand.

Joe was one of the "Polish children" whose plight would be well known to New Zealanders who remember World War II. The Polish children arrived in New Zealand in 1944 and were settled in the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua. Joe was nearly 11 when he arrived and was there for a few years. Last summer, Joe and I went up to Pahiatua and looked over the site which used to be the camp. From his comments, I would say that this was by and large a relatively peaceful part of his life. However, if we didn't know anything about his history we would miss the fact that up to that point he had experienced things in his life that would have amazed and unsettled us. Joe was like that. He would never let on about things like that. He just got on with his life.

Joe came to be here when he shared the fate of the Polish children in Pahiatua. He had a wry chuckle about the ethnic-cleansing debacle in Kosovo – he maintains that he was ethnically cleansed out of Poland years before and nobody said or did anything about it then. On leaving Pahiatua, Joe worked in the meat industry most of his life. He moved from Gear, to Tomoana, to Wakatu, to Ocean Beach, to Ngahauranga (now Ngauranga) and others between. He stayed in single men's quarters and like his mates lived the life of Riley.

I have had many discussions with Joe on a wide range of topics, which led me to the belief that he was a deep thinker who could make reasoned connections between events. He had a good understanding of the history of the Middle East, the evolvement of the Slavonic nations and the modern relationships between the Slavic people. He had a good knowledge of the page 286cultures of the Middle East and the influence of Genghis Khan. He had an intimate knowledge of Russian history and a deep affection for Leningrad, or St Petersburg as it is now known. He listened to opera of the Wagnerian genre. On first meeting, you wouldn't think that he had all this tucked away in there. Knowing something of what he had gone through made you realise the extent of his resilience, his dogged determination and his strength of character. What they say about still waters was true of Joe.

Of recent years, Joe did go back to his home area. He said that he would quite like to have returned to Poland to live out the remainder of his life. But he also said he was not going anywhere while his beloved cat Louie was still around.

I was hoping I might have persuaded Joe to record an oral history of his life, but like most things in life I left it too late. I'm not sure that he would have done it anyway.
With friends in the camp's grounds. Standing: (l-r) Józef Pieczara, Stefan Waniuk, Tadeusz Budny, Henryk Kapera, Tadeusz Reder Front: (l-r) Teodor Piesocki, Zbigniew Popławski, Tadeusz Mazur

With friends in the camp's grounds.
Standing: (l-r) Józef Pieczara, Stefan Waniuk, Tadeusz Budny, Henryk Kapera, Tadeusz Reder
Front: (l-r) Teodor Piesocki, Zbigniew Popławski, Tadeusz Mazur