This year marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival and settlement of New Zealand’s first invited refugees to our country. On 1 November 1944, 733 mostly orphaned Polish children from World War II conflicts arrived with 102 adult guardians at the port of Wellington on the USS World War II troop carrier The General Randall.
On arrival the refugees were taken through the countryside to a camp in Pahiatua created especially for them two hours north of Wellington. Called ‘little Poland’ the camp became their new home.
Seventy years on, the Polish community reconnected and gave thanks at commemorative events held around New Zealand during October and November this year. Of the remaining 340 now ‘adult children’, 151 attended the events.
A memorable thanksgiving Mass was celebrated on 2 November 2014 by Archbishop John Dew along with visiting Reverend Father Glowaki from Poland, Apostolic Nuncio representative Monsignor Roman Walzcuk, St Jochiem’s Polish parish priest Father Swiatkowski, and visiting Polish clergy. They con-celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Wellington.
The Cathedral overflowed with the Polish community and dignitaries sharing the spiritual journey as a one big family and giving thanks for the opportunities that came their way.
The 733 children and their 102 caregivers who arrived in Wellington 70 years ago walked through their ‘valley of darkness’ as refugees in Siberia and Iran for over four years of separation from their families and fears for their future.
They were people of hope sustained by the dedication and generosity of their caregivers and chaplains and, above all, by their hope and faith and prayer, especially in ‘Matka Boska’ the Mother of Christ.
Archbishop John Dew said, ‘St Paul wrote to the Romans, “that hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into their hearts” (Rom 5)’
Tereska Lepionka-Carrol was chairperson of the 70th Polish reunion committee of Wellington and is the daughter of two of the Polish refugees.