Spectrum 131 - Will there be bread tomorrow?

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Tono kōrero mai

Former Polish refugee children recall their resettlement in New Zealand in 1944.
Part 2: Our home was pre-fabs - and we loved it.

Part 2 of a two part Spectrum documentary [See ID30182 for Part 1]

Peter Kingston accompanies former residents on a visit to the site of their first home in New Zealand, a camp near Pahiatua. They recall their arrival in Wellington and life at the camp.

Krystyna [ probably Skwarko] arrived in New Zealand aged 11, with her mother and brother, but most of the other Polish children were orphans when they arrived in November 1944.

Krystyna talks about being welcomed in Wellington by Peter Fraser and other Poles who had arrived ahead of them. Another unidentified woman who was 15 at the time, recalls being chosen to make a speech to Peter Fraser on behalf of the children.

They recall New Zealand children waving Polish and New Zealand flags and other people welcoming them with flowers, sweets and songs every time the train stopped on the way to Pahiatua.

[Singing of an unidentified Polish hymn]

In February 1975 the former child refugees reunited at Pahiatua to revisit their first New Zealand home. A priest who was a baby in the camp, leads Mass at the reunion. Krystyna brought her teenage children with her from Hamilton and speaks about what this means for her.

Two unidentified women [former teachers at the camp] talk about meeting the Polish children and their impressions of them - their beautiful manners and their resilience.

A sculpture is unveiled to mark the site of the former camp. Kristina remembers her first day in the camp. Two sisters, Irena and Eva [?] join her in a walk around the camp recalling the past. They describe their rooms, the lay-out of the camp buildings and the environment.

They talk about the boys in the camp, who were aged up to 20. The camp was mostly staffed by women and they had to cope with teenage boys who had been hardened by life in camps in Russia. They were amazed at how honest people were in New Zealand.

A woman describes how the children at first would take all the bread from the dining table and hide it under their beds because they couldn't believe there would be more bread tomorrow. It took them about two months to stop doing this. She says the New Zealand soldiers at the camp wept at seeing this.

After 30 years the women say the memories of the camp are still fresh, especially coming back to the site. They talk about learning to dance with a lady who would come from Pahiatua every Saturday to play the piano for them.

A clearing in some macrocarpa trees is now the only sign of what the children called their 'sacred grotto', where they would go when they were feeling sad or overwhelmed by their memories.

They talk about the kindness of New Zealanders towards them - even the farmer next-door who found his tractor dismantled by some of the boys. They agree they will bring their grand-children back to the site, to show them where their life in New Zealand began.

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Year 1975

Reference number 33183

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Genre Oral histories
Interviews (Sound recordings)
Sound recordings

Credits Kingston, Peter, Producer
Skwarko, Krystyna, Interviewee

Duration 00:29:14

Date Feb 1975