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Forgotten truths of the Polish Refugees

Forgotten truths of the Polish Refugees

“A Forgotten Odyssey” to be shown in Russell

Arriving in NZ in 1943 as a ten-year-old refugee, John Wojciechowski (now known as John Roy) was delighted with his new home. Now he is determined that the horrors he and his family saw will never be forgotten.

“NZ was like heaven compared with what we had gone through – in 1940 I was one of 1.7 million Poles deported in cattle trucks to work as slave labourers in Siberia, near the Arctic Circle,” he said.

Now Honorary Consul for Poland in this country and staunchly proud of his heritage, John wants New Zealanders to realise how fortunate they are. On 12 August, Monday, he will show the film ‘A Forgotten Odyssey’, the survivors’ stories of the 1939 invasion of Poland.

“Many displaced Polish men, women and children did not survive deportation to Siberia and Kazakhstan, or the harsh life in the labour camps,” he said. “I was one of only 733 other child survivors of the Soviet annexation of Eastern Poland.”

“Most of them are still alive today – many served in the Allied Forces – and all have made a contribution to NZ.”

“I remember arriving in Port Nicholson that morning, we looked out at all the colourful roofs of the houses on the cliffs,” he said. “I will never forgot the intense relief and happiness I felt.”

The children travelled with their caregivers to Pahiatua where, Mr Roy says, ‘Little Poland’ was born. “Pahiatua was the first home I remember. It was so quiet and peaceful – the quiet sometimes scared me!”

“We are the largest family in the world,” he says of the tight-knit, but now worldwide group. He holds dual Polish and NZ citizenship and often travels abroad on business, renewing acquaintances and reliving memories. He is fluent in both Polish and English.

John has brought the film to NZ to share the tales of what so many people went through.

“It’s an educational tool,” he said. “Previously it had been shown in Canada, the US, Australian and the UK. I screened it first at Parliament, and it attracted interest from right across the political spectrum.

It will screen in Russell on Monday, 12 August and the previous Friday morning he will speak at a fundraising breakfast, to raise funds for the BOI Hospice.

For further information contact Peter Sharp on 402 6071 or Dan Manley on 403 104


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