Polish Refugees in New Zealand 1944-1951

Changing Status

Yalta summit 1945 with Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. Source: Public Domain

Yalta summit 1945 with Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. Source: Public Domain

Polish Children’s Reunion Committee 2004: The war was nearing its end. On 4 to 11 February 1945, the victorious Allies held a conference at Yalta. At that conference, Britain and the US agreed to Russia’s annexation of eastern Poland and its control of Eastern Europe. Poland received some territorial compensation from Germany, which came to be known as the recovered territories because they originally belonged to Poland.

The political and territorial changes created a great dilemma for all Poles who were abroad as a result of the war, and the various deportations to Germany and Russia. Most of them, as was to be expected, wanted to return to a free Poland and not a communist Russian-controlled and dominated state.  However, Poland became a Russian satellite and Poland’s legitimate Government-in-Exile was no longer recognised by the Allies, who found it politically expedient to collaborate with Stalin and agreed to recognise a Russian-installed and sponsored communist government in post-war Poland. In practice, this meant that those Poles who decided not to return to Poland were regarded as traitors by the new communist government. Some of those who did return were either arrested or treated with suspicion for having been in the capitalist West.

The new government knew about the group of Polish children in New Zealand and made an effort to have them repatriated to Poland. The New Zealand Government offered a solution – it undertook to take care of the children. This enabled them to remain in New Zealand until such time as they reached maturity and were able to decide for themselves whether or not they wished to return to Poland. Most of them had no option but to stay in New Zealand. (p23)

… It was intended that after the war all the children and staff would return to Poland. However, after the Russians had pushed the Germans back across Poland in 1945, the Russians installed a pro-Soviet communist government in Poland and retained, with some adjustments, the territories occupied in 1939. It was at this stage that the New Zealand Government assured the children and staff that they were welcome to remain in New Zealand.

The limited financial assistance from the Polish Government-in-Exile in London soon came to an end and the New Zealand Government took over the entire financing of the camp. The Polish authorities were aware of the huge costs of running the camp, and it was decided to try to lower them by cultivating a vegetable garden and taking over the running of the laundry and kitchens. (p25)

New Zealand’s First Refugees: Pahiatua’s Polish Children (3rd edition); p23, 25