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

The camp's administration

page 304

The camp's administration

The Prime Minister's Department and Government took the problems of this unique group of Polish children refugees very seriously, and gave much thought and attention to the details of the administration of the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua and the children's future. With no precedents to guide them, their deliberations would have been especially difficult.

These records also show Prime Minister Peter Fraser's personal concern for the children's wellbeing. His colleagues, of like mind about the children's welfare, did not always hold the same views about the children's cultural identity or the camp's future. Their different views are reflected in the discussions and decisions chaired by acting Prime Minister Walter Nash and in the subsequent final decisions reached by Prime Minister Peter Fraser.

At times, the proposals by the officials from the Prime Minister's Department were at odds with the stated opinion of the Polish authorities in the camp. This is not surprising in light of the differences in outlook. The New Zealand Government officials wanted the children's speedy assimilation and the Poles wanted the children to retain their identity. But credit to both sides must be given – their aim was the children's welfare and in the end the children benefited from the best of both worlds.

The conditions under which the camp was administered for the first two years of its five-year existence (from 1944 to 1949) are unparalleled in New Zealand's history. For the first two years, the camp was partly controlled and funded (including Polish staff's salaries, education, children's pocket money) by the Polish Government-in-Exile in London until that government ceased to be recognised by its former allies (including New Zealand). The New Zealand Government provided all the facilities and the supply of goods.

This was an unprecedented and unique situation in which the New Zealand Government ceded some control to a foreign government. The camp became fully funded and administered by the New Zealand Government after it ceased to recognise the Polish Government-in-Exile in 1945.

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