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New Zealand’s First Refugees: 70 years on

New Zealand’s First Refugees: 70 years on

On 1 November 1944, 733 children, mostly orphans or separated from their parents by the war in Poland, arrived in Wellington Harbour aboard USS General Randall. Some 102 adults – teachers, doctors and administrators – accompanied the group to Pahiatua where a camp was established to give a temporary home for the children. It quickly became their little Poland, home away from home until they could return.

For many, it was not to be. Following the Soviet Union’s assumption of control over Poland in 1945, at the request of Polish government-in-exile’s Consul-General, Count Wodzicki, in co-operation with the Polish authorities in London and the New Zealand Government, Guardianship Council for the Polish Children in New Zealand was formed and the children given the option to remain in New Zealand. In 1947 and again in 1948, the communist regime demanded that the children be returned to Poland, but the New Zealand Government refused.

This year marks 70 years since the Pahiatua children’s arrival. Many have since passed, but those who remain and their descendants can look back with pride at their significant achievements. They became good citizens of New Zealand, contributing significantly to the development of economic, cultural and religious life of the country, at the same time retaining their Polishness, their language and sense of their history.

The anniversary celebrations will be held in Christchurch on Saturday, 26th July at the Majestic Church in Moorhouse Avenue, at 4.30 p.m. They will include a Polish Dance Spectacular and Culture Fair organized by the Polish Association in Christchurch.

Marianne Dutkiewicz, a Christchurch lawyer and granddaughter of a Pahiatua orphan, will be the Master of Ceremonies, and a group of Pahiatua children resident in Christchurch and Canterbury - the guests of honour at the event. The programme includes a performance of Polonaise by a local Polish folklore group Polonus, and a colourful and varied display of Polish regional dances by the Poligrodzianie ensemble, visiting from Poland.

As one of the greatest Polish cultural heritage ambassadors, Poligrodzianie has visited 58 countries during its over a hundred foreign tours, performing in front of Pope Jean Paul II, Mayor of New York, Presidents and Ministers of many states. The Group has given concerts on the prestigious stages of Milan and Nashville, for the prisoners in the USA, in Disneyland and in the Tibetan prairie.

Their performance is a dynamic display of colour and musicality, performed to live music played on traditional Polish instruments, and featuring many regional costumes of Poland, some hand-made by the members of the ensemble. Polish Culture Fair offering crafts, books and baking for sale will be held after the concert. The event is a fundraiser for the Polish Association in Christchurch.

Poligrodzianie will also hold a Polish folk dance workshop at the Cashmere Club on Sunday, 27th July, 2-5 p.m.

What: Polish Dance Spectacular dedicated to the Pahiatua Children 70th Anniversary Celebrations

When: Saturday, 26th July 2014, 4.30 p.m.

Where: Majestic Church, Moorhouse Ave, Christchurch

Cost: $20 per adult, $40 family pass, child and student discounts available.
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