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

The Polish hostels, 1946-58

The Polish hostels, 1946-58

When the Polish children and their staff arrived in New Zealand in 1944, they firmly believed that their stay would be temporary and that they would return to Poland as soon as the war ended. Therefore, their schooling at the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua was in Polish, and all the children remained in the camp so they could better assimilate back into Polish culture. The teaching of English was kept to a minimum.

However, in February 1945, it became obvious that the children, especially the orphans, would not be returning to their homeland after the outcome of the Yalta Conference. Eastern Poland, where they had come from, had been annexed by Russia and the rest of Poland enclosed in the Soviet bloc.

As a consequence, the camp's Polish staff and the New Zealand Government began planning the relocation of the children and their future. There was much controversy. The Government was anxious to integrate the children into New Zealand society as soon as possible. But on the other hand, the Polish staff feared that if the children went among strangers then they would lose their special Polish identity and religion. Eventually, an agreement was reached between the New Zealand Government, the Polish staff and the Catholic Church on the best way of relocating the children.