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

Proposed adoption of children

Proposed adoption of children

A milestone in the fate of the Polish children was the Yalta Conference (4 to 11 February, 1945) at which the Allies ceded Poland into the Soviet sphere of domination. This was a severe blow to the adults and children, who saw their world collapse around them with no likely return to their native land for which they had yearned passionately through all their years of exile. A gloom settled on the camp.

There was much friction at that time between the Polish staff and the Polish and New Zealand authorities at the camp as to the course to be page 321taken – whether to assimilate the children into New Zealand society, or maintain the camp and the children's Polish identity in the hope that events will change for the better and that Poland will be free again.

There were serious proposals in government circles to have the children adopted out into New Zealand families but the Prime Minister's conclusion was to leave the children to decide for themselves. Many of the Polish staff resisted the assimilation policy on the basis that the children might still return to Poland, which, after its destruction by war and occupying powers, was short of people. The Polish nation had fought in a war alongside its former allies to maintain its Polish identity and now felt betrayed.

The Polish guardians and children resisted this proposal strongly and there were very few adoptions. It was a difficult situation on both sides at that time. It was particularly difficult for the adults, who felt stranded and helpless to cope in this strange, foreign to them and often unsympathetic society. Unfortunately, they did not leave any records of their struggles to adapt to their new environment.