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

The decision-making processes in the Prime Minister's Department

The decision-making processes in the Prime Minister's Department

12 February 1946

A meeting in the acting Prime Minister's office

During the Prime Minister's absence, the acting Prime Minister, Walter Nash (a future Prime Minister), chaired a meeting to discuss the children's future. The following shows a general discussion on the tabled reports, and the meeting's recommendations and conclusions. The minutes reveal the difference of opinion between the Prime Minister and his staff over the policy of assimilation. Tertiary education was not a Government priority at that time, especially for the Polish children.

The points under discussion were whether:
  • • The present camp administration is to be maintained, with progressive outturn to civil life of selected children on reaching a certain age
  • • A concerted effort should be made to break up the camp and arrange for the orphaned children to be adopted by different New Zealand families
  • 1. To assist the decision making, the following information was tabled at the meeting:
    • a) Of the total of 733 children in the camp, 90 have a mother or father in the camp with them, 218 have at least one parent overseas, while the balance of 425 are orphans.
    • b) Parents who reside at the camp are employed as teachers, cooks, etc c) Permits to enter Zealand have been granted to 24 additional parents, who represent 56 children.
    • d) The orphans' ages are as follows:
      Age Boys Girls
      Under 10 39 48
      11-15 130 117
      16+ 10 81
    • e) All parents are to come to New Zealand if they wish. The majority are with the Polish forces in Italy and they probably consider it impossible for them to return to Poland. The natural refuge therefore is in New Zealand. That would leave only the orphans to be cared for.
    • f) A policy of progressive assimilation of these children in New Zealand life would seem best. The Polish authorities resist this. Adoption and boarding out to be carried out as soon as Mr Zaleski, the new Polish Delegate, arrives from London.
    page 315
  • 2. Present arrangements:
    • a) During 1945 – their first full year in New Zealand – nine children attended schools outside the camp, though 47 vacancies were offered in schools. Some Polish adults are resisting exposing the children to New Zealand influences.
    • b) This year, 67 vacancies in schools have been offered and accepted. The following are going out into employment:
      Hospitals 10
      Farming 6
      Hairdressing 4
      Dressmaking 7
      Home aid 6-12
      Tailoring 7
      Engineering trades 10
      In addition, eight boys are employed under expert tuition in boot and shoe repair at the camp.
    • c) This programme will succeed only when the school syllabus is revised to teach more English in all subjects at the camp.
  • 3. Education:
    • a) The Poles maintain a primary and secondary school at the camp, exclusively on Polish lines. The primary school runs to the seventh standard, which is usually entered in the 13th year.
    • b) English is not taught until Standard 5. There were only two New Zealand teachers at the camp (at that time) and they can accomplish little with the numbers of children with whom they must deal.
    • c) The Polish authorities at the camp have resisted the introduction of English into the schools (though Mr Wodzicki, the Polish Consul, disavowed this in discussions with Walter Nash in January 1946) The resistance takes the form that English should not interfere in any way whatsoever with the Polish syllabus.
    • d) If the children are to stay in New Zealand, as appears most probable, then it is essential to absorb them as rapidly as possible into New Zealand life, while affording them the opportunity to retain their Polish associations and identity. It is therefore suggested that:
      • i) The syllabus in the camp should be reviewed by the New Zealand education authorities
      • ii) The syllabus should adopt English as the main subject to afford the children a reasonable opportunity when they enter New Zealand life. This could be arranged as to give bias to Polish subjects, eg, historypage 316
      • iii) While it is desirable to defer the final action on syllabus changes, the survey should be undertaken as soon as possible. It may then be discussed with Mr Zaleski, the new Polish Delegate, when he arrives, or if the need is pressing, to be taken up directly with London
  • 4. Of the 67 children going to Catholic schools this year, the larger proportion will be boarded in private Catholic homes. Dr Kavanagh has asked whether the Interim Treasury Committee can meet the cost of private board and school uniforms, and the meeting suggested a sum of 30s per week. The question of payment for board in Catholic convents did not arise.
  • 5. Board of guardians:
    • a) The Supreme Court of New Zealand without any adequate consultation with the New Zealand Government initially appointed the board. While this may have been an embarrassment, it functioned usefully and has assisted the camp commandant.
    • b) The board's functions are not precisely defined. It acts as the orphaned children's guardian and therefore has legal status. Countess Wodzicka stated that she considered the board's functions were advisory, though Walter Nash stated that the primary responsibility rested with the New Zealand Government.
    • c) The camp commandant should be appointed to the board, though earlier this recommendation was not unanimous.
    • d) Mr Zaleski, the Polish Delegate, should be appointed by the Supreme Court and be responsible to the New Zealand Government.

The above recommendations were presented to Prime Minister Peter Fraser on his return from overseas, and his final decisions are contained in the minutes of a meeting held on 1 June 1946, summarised below.