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Polish WWII refugees to relive Indian odyssey

PR dla Zagranicy
Nick Hodge 13.02.2014 18:20
The Polish government is funding a reunion of over seventy former refugees who were given asylum in India during the Second World War.

Kolhapur. Photo: wikipedia

Polish Consul General in Mumbai Leszek Brenda journeyed to the city of Kolhapur, western India, on Wednesday to oversee preparations for the 4 March event.

About 5000 Polish citizens lived at a vast refugee camp in Valivade, near Kolhapur, between 1943 and 1948.

“We have a very strong bond with this city and its people,” Brenda told The Times of India.

“They protected our children and families during the most tragic period for our country.”

The refugees had been freed from Soviet captivity following an amnesty declared by Joseph Stalin after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

The Polish government-in-exile in London supported General Wladylsaw Anders in his bid to transport as many refugees as possible to Iran. Many later fought as part of the British 8th Army, while thousands were given asylum in locations as varied as Uganda, Mexico, New Zealand and India.

Two camps functioned in India. The largest was at Valivade, while one mainly for orphans was opened at Balachadi in Gujarat, thanks to the Maharaja of Nawanagar, who had an attachment to Poland, thanks to his friendship with pianist Ignacy Paderewski.

The camp at Valivade had the character of a small Polish town, with a church, schools, common rooms, a cinema, a cafe, and a market. Families were provided with an allowance via the Polish government-in-exile.

After the war most of the refugees, who had suffered in Soviet labour camps, were wary of returning to Poland, where a Moscow-backed communist regime had been installed.

The camps were finally closed in 1948, and the refugees settled in the UK, Australia, Canada and other countries, while some returned to Poland.

Vijaysinh Gaikwad, a retired Indian colonel and president of the ex-servicemen welfare association of Kolhapur, is involved in the preparations for the reunion.

“My father had a shop at the camp and I still remember its residents.

"For the past two decades, we are in touch and they desperately wanted to visit this place. Most of them are in their eighties and are very excited to relive their childhood,” he said. (nh)

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