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

[New Zealand public's reaction]

New Zealand public's reaction

New Zealanders were divided in their attitude toward the arrival of the Polish children. Many welcomed them unreservedly but some felt that the Government's first duty was to their own citizens and the British people in general, and resented the help extended to foreigners by the Government. The following shows an example of a typical letter to the editor, followed by the Government's reply. Both letters are courtesy of The Dominion Post.

A letter to The Evening Post, February 1947


I wonder how many of your readers have visited the Polish camp at Pahiatua. I had the pleasure of doing so a little while ago. Everything is fine, but imagine my surprise when I discovered Polish families comfortably housed in little cottages of their own. Nobody objects, I am sure, to these Polish refugees being here, but one wonders how many people know that the men folk do no work whatsoever for them and their families' keep, and believe me they have things we never see. Our own men are employed to cook for them and wait on them! One feels it is all wrong in these days of labour shortage and especially when our own boys who fought for us cannot get decent living quarters, never mind being kept. Mr Fraser paid a visit to the camp recently, and told the Polish people he hoped they were all happy and that they could be the guests of New Zealand as long as they liked. Well, I ask you, who wouldn't stay under such circumstances, no work, no rent, no food bills, no fire bills and plenty of everything.

I am, etc

"A Worker" (and proud of it, too)

page 319

A reply from the Prime Minister's Department

26 February 1947

Comment in official quarters on the above was that there are 20 cottages at the Polish camp at Pahiatua occupied by Polish families. The cottages are not up to standard of New Zealand housing, but were provided in the camp to enable some of the Polish families to be accommodated in this way and enjoy some home life after the deprivation and suffering they experienced following the time they had to leave their own country in 1939.

All the adults at the camp make payment at a settled weekly rate for their food and lodging, whether they are accommodated in dormitories or in the cottages.

With the exception of some six adults who, because of their age, are unable to work, all adults in the camp establishment are employed and paid for their services. It is not true to say that the men folk do no work whatsoever – they are engaged in teaching and general maintenance duties in the camp.

No New Zealand personnel are engaged in cooking for the Poles, who do their own cooking and waiting at tables. One New Zealander is employed as general overseer of all the kitchens, and is responsible for the issue and use of rations.

During the visit that he made to the camp recently, the Prime Minister indicated that the Poles were welcome to remain in New Zealand, and that the adults could and should, as soon as possible, take their place in industry. It is not intended to maintain the camp permanently, only as long as it is necessary for the care of the children, of whom some are of primary school age who must remain in the camp for their education. When the children reach secondary school age, they attend schools in New Zealand, and on attaining working age are found employment in industry.

The above correspondence reveals that most New Zealanders were not aware that the Polish Government-in-Exile in London met some of the costs of running the camp, such as the adult personnel's salary and the children's pocket money.