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70th anniversary of New Zealand's first refugees

Museum of Wellington City & Sea marks 70th Anniversary of New Zealand’s first refugees

Museum of Wellington City & Sea stages a Celebration of Everything Polish this October to mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of New Zealand’s first refugees in November 1944. The 733 Polish children and their 102 guardians came to Wellington before moving to a camp in Pahiatua after a harrowing journey from Poland through Russia and Iran.

Alongside a private reunion for the remaining 340 Polish children, the Museum of Wellington City & Sea will host a series of events and a photo exhibition as part of a week-long festival to mark the occasion from Saturday 25 October – Sunday 2 November.

The 70th anniversary commemoration planning includes the Pahiatua Polish children's community in New Zealand, The Polish Association of New Zealand, the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision, Wellington City Council and Museum of Wellington City & Sea.

Speaking about the festival, Brett Mason, Director of Museums Wellington says, “This year is an important time for those of Polish heritage to reconnect and rediscover the stories of their past. For Wellingtonians the Polish anniversary commemorations give us a chance to learn more about, embrace and celebrate Polish food, music, dance, culture and people.”
The 70th anniversary will give Wellingtonians the opportunity to remember the extraordinary story of the Polish children’s arrival and the impact on the city’s culture and social fabric by the them and later Polish immigrants. For updates on the festival activity, visit the Museum of Wellington City & Sea website. www.museumswellington.org.nz/museum-of-wellington-city-and-sea/

Note to editors:
Nearly three weeks after the invasion of Poland by the German Army on September 1 1939, the Russian Army attacked Poland without warning from the east on September 17. As a result, Eastern Poland was annexed by 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 deported, the approximately 1,500,000 exiles included many children. Among those who survived the ordeal were the Polish children - mostly orphans - who came to Pahiatua.
Today in New Zealand, there are six Polish Associations. The first Polish Association was established in 1948 in Wellington and was formed by ex-Polish servicemen who arrived in New Zealand to be reacquainted with family from the Pahiatua Polish Children's group and displaced Polish people who were looking for a fresh start away from Europe. This association was called 'The Polish Association in New Zealand’.


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