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

Remembering the Polish boys

Remembering the Polish boys

The year is 1950 in my first week at St Kevin's College in Oamaru. For this quiet little boy from the quiet little South Island town of Gore, this was the wide world, exciting stuff. With 180 other boys to meet, it most certainly was exciting – people from all around New Zealand and Samoa. All mysterious places to this stranger from Gore.

But who were these five "Poles"? Rumour had it that they were refugees, whatever that meant. I recall making enquiries about refugees and where they came from – it was from the other side of the moon as far as I was concerned. This group of five seemed to keep to themselves and that was fine by me.

A slow learner, I struggled with my studies, unlike the Poles. I was not a bookworm, but I did notice that they often seemed to be carrying school books. For whatever reason, I just could not make out why at the time. Outside school hours, where there was one Pole, there were several, and all much more focused on learning than the writer was.

After leaving school, I began reading and researching war history. What struck me then was my ignorance of what my Polish friends had been through. We all had families at home, but where were theirs, if they had any? Where did they go during the school holidays? Did I care?

In more recent years, I went to Bosnia with an aid agency and got too close to Serb guns. For the first time in my life I experienced fear. This brief encounter gave me just a small taste of what my Polish friends must have endured for years and what pain was still in their hearts. The question remains – what could or would I have done for them had I some idea of their background?

Among my many other social commitments, I am involved with people in prisons. What a waste of humanity, where one often finds a background filled with negatives, resulting in wasted lives. In contrast, this group of Polish children have brought positives out of the carnage of World War II.

We have benefited greatly from the calibre of these people who became New Zealand citizens and contributed to the welfare of our country, which is a better place because they live here.

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