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The Warsaw Voice » Stage & Screen » December 1, 2014
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From Siberia to Safety
December 1, 2014   
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Poland’s parliamentary Speaker Radosław Sikorski and New Zealand’s ambassador to Warsaw, Wendy Hinton, Oct. 21 opened an exhibition about hundreds of children who, after being deported from Poland by occupying Soviet forces during the 1940s, ended up in New Zealand, where they grew up safe from the horrors of World War II.

The exhibition is entitled “Journey of Hope: The Polish Children of Pahiatua, 1944-2014.” It comprises photographs and accompanying articles charting the fate of the young Polish deportees, their hardships in labor camps in Siberia and their subsequent life in New Zealand.

Hinton said that the exhibition paid tribute to the 733 Polish children, many of whom were orphans, and 102 caregivers who arrived in New Zealand in October 1944. They had survived a harrowing journey from Poland through Siberia and later Iran, and then weeks at sea in a cramped tug boat to India, finally sharing a ship with troops returning home to New Zealand. They were New Zealand’s first official refugees.

That country’s wartime prime minister Peter Fraser and his wife Janet were instrumental in bringing the children to New Zealand. They settled in Pahiatua, a small town on New Zealand’s North Island.

Hinton said, “The children’s Polish heritage was instilled in them at the Pahiatua camp where everything was in Polish, even the street signs. At that same time, they played rugby, holidayed on farms and generally absorbed life as Kiwi (New Zealand) kids. In the event, most of the children did not return to Poland and formed the nucleus of the strong Polish community which is today part of New Zealand’s vibrant multicultural society.”

The exhibition was opened in the Polish parliament and was also shown between Oct. 28. and Nov. 3 at the local government offices in Warsaw’s southern Ursynów district, where a street is named after Peter Fraser.

Jolanta Wolska
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