Refugees Are Welcome Here
December 3, 2017 7:07 PM   Subscribe

The Story of Seven-Hundred Polish Children (1966) (18’05, Black & White)
This 1966 documentary tells the story of 733 Polish children who were adopted by New Zealand in 1944 as WWII refugees. Moving interviews, filmed 20 years later, document their harrowing exodus from Poland: via Siberian labour camps, malnutrition and death, to being greeted by PM Peter Fraser on arrival in NZ. From traumatic beginnings the film chronicles new lives (as builders, doctors, educators, and mothers) and ends with a family beach picnic. Made for television, this was one of the last productions directed by pioneering woman filmmaker Kathleen O'Brien.
Read: Story of the Polish Children of Pahiatua (Stanislaw Manterys, Polish Embassy in Wellington)

Newsreel: New Zealand Soldiers and Polish Children (1944) (08’31, Black & White)
They’re kept their pride but their traditions have been reduced to a will to live, a bravery, a simple gratitude for food and shelter. These little people have been wandering for nearly five years. They’re broken pieces of once peaceful communities; they’re remnants of families. These are the people war uproots and casts aside.
Yes, this story has a happy ending:
Polish Children of Pahiatua - 70th Reunion (2014) (18’30, Polish Embassy in Wellington, CraftInc Films)

Too long, didn’t watch/read?

Pahīatua's 'Little Poland' - roadside stories (04’20) (youtube audio & slideshow).

Want to dig deeper?

Documentary: Poles Apart - The Story of 733 Polish Children (1’04’32) (Written and directed by MaryJo Tohill. Made by The Polish Association in Christchurch and CTV, New Zealand, 2004).
This documentary tells their story and features interviews with many of the Polish refugees.

Book: New Zealands First Refugees: Pahiatuas Polish Children (2004, authored by the Polish Children's Reunion Committee)
Read over 100 first-hand accounts by the children; this book is available to read in it's entirety online (also in ePub form)
See some photos from the book. Hard copies of the book also available here.

Photos: here, here, & here.

Exhibit: Kresy Siberia Virtual Museum
posted by Start with Dessert (7 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Here's another one that I like very much

“A LITTLE POLAND IN INDIA” is the true and captivating story of the then Jam Saheb (Ruler) Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja of Nawanagar, nephew of famous Indian cricketer Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji of the Jadeja clan, a princely state in the Kathiawar Peninsula, off the land of Gujarat, in India – where human compassion is customary since generations. It is the heart-warming story of an enriched historical bond between India and Poland. A story that represents people-to people contact in its most humane form, beyond borders and across continents; a story of compassion, love and brotherhood etched in the cultural and historical connect for India and Poland. This film is a result of the mutual history of both countries which shows the true compassion and magnanimity of India and her citizens to Polish children, a perfect example of humanism that should never be forgotten.

posted by infini at 12:05 AM on December 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Thanks Infini. I should have "Previouslied" your FPP from last year!

I think I kind of buried the lede on this one - the book link is really worth looking at for it's first-hand accounts. I put the video links up front as a "foot in the door" so-to-speak, but if you have the time give the book a read.
posted by Start with Dessert at 12:53 AM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's great that these kids were given refuge, but I have to wonder why none of them were Jewish (as far as I can tell). I know that New Zealand closed its doors to Jewish refugees quite early, and even interned European Jews that had arrived well before the War. I can't help but wonder whether these kids in particular were admitted because they were the "right sort".
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:13 AM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Jewish children were not the only children to need refuge during WWII.
After the invasion of Poland by the Russian Red Army from the east on 17 September 1939 (nearly three weeks after Nazi Germany invaded from the west, which began World War II), Eastern Poland was annexed by Russia, the former the Soviet Union. The invaders began systematic mass arrests and deportation to forced labour camps in Soviet Russia, under a policy of "ethnic cleansing" of Polish citizens. Because whole families were so deported, among the approximately 1 5000 000 exiles were many children. Among them were the future Polish Children of Pahiatua.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:57 AM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Some refugees, anyway.

" The selectors’ first and foremost consideration was suitability of the immigrant for absorption into the country’s population. Edwin Dudley Good, Comptroller of Customs in the mid 1930s, was quite explicit in his interpretation: ‘Non-Jewish applicants are regarded as a more suitable type of immigrant.’ [8] Walter Nash, Minister of Customs in New Zealand’s first Labour Government which took office in 1936, held the same view: ‘There is a major difficulty of absorbing these people in our cultural life without raising a feeling of antipathy to them,’ he wrote on one occasion.[9]"
posted by ocschwar at 7:37 AM on December 4, 2017

Don't get me started on New Zealand's historical/contemporary immigration/refugee polices. I'm currently putting together an FPP on the treatment of Chinese people in NZ (Spoiler: it has not been good.)

It is true that New Zealand was afflicted with the pernicious influence of naziism and anti-semitism.

Well yes, the post title is a virtuous ideal rather than a statement of fact. But it was true for these people. It also provides a glimpse into the positive results, not just for the refugees themselves, but for our societies as a whole when we welcome those who no longer have a home.

I think in the context of immigration/refugee policy internationally (in Poland, New Zealand, and elsewhere) it is important to remember the good when a country was generous to those who suffered through war and deportation.
posted by Start with Dessert at 3:24 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't disagree. One way to persuade people to be generous is by telling them that there's a precedent, that this is the sort of thing that has been done before. It's national mythology used in the service of good. On the other hand, we need to rise above the prejudices of the past and acknowledge the victims who had no voice, because (unlike these kids) they weren't "Polish" enough to end up in a mass of exiled Poles, and even if they had survived they would have been excluded from NZ.

New Zealand's a great country that is significantly ahead of Australia on some issues. It's not impossible that those attitudes were partially formed back then, with the admission of these kids. So at worst this is a glass-half-full situation. I don't think that acknowledging that other refugees were kept out for racist reasons prevents us recognising the compassion that led to the admission of these. On the contrary, I think the ambiguity should help us understand that we need to do better.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:48 PM on December 4, 2017

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