‘The story of Polish refugees escaping from the Soviet occupation during World War II became a winning topic for one St Patrick’s College Kilbirnie student last month in a double first for the college.
Aleksander Noble-Campbell won the Wellington Speaking Union’s Stockley Cup on 21 October with his grandmother’s story of arriving in Pahiatua in 1944 with 732 Polish children, and his junior colleague Finn Lowndes won the Dunsheath Plate for his speech about the world of teenagers and adults and how they clash.
The first-time, double win is all the sweeter for the college because it is some years since it has entered speakers in these highly prestigious competitions and 25 years since St Pats won the Stockley Cup, the year after the competition’s inception.
The Dunsheath Plate was added to the competition in 2005 and this is the first time St Pats has won it. Finn was a member of the St Patrick’s College O’Shea Shield team which won this year’s competition, participating in the Junior Prepared Speech section.
Aleksander has wanted to speak of the story of the Polish refugees for some time. Those in his grandmother’s generation talked about the Gehenna which is a Jewish word for hell denoting the idea of the mass extermination of people. For the Polish people death came much more slowly than in the German death camps of the Shoah (Holocaust).
For the Polish refugees, it is important to talk about what happened during the war. Under Communist rule for two decades after the war, two generations were not allowed to talk about their experience of the war. Those who returned to Poland after WWII could not say why they were in Africa when people asked where they had been. They can’t have justice because the perpetrators have now died but at least there is memory, says Aleksander’s coach Halina McDonald whose parents were among the refugees.
Next year the refugees will celebrate the 70th anniversary of their arrival in NZ.