How 700 Polish children made an unlikely journey from the depths of Siberia to the New Zealand countryside.
#stories from the eastern west
After the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east in 1939, many thousands of Polish families were deported to Siberian forced labour camps. There they not only faced bitter cold but constant hunger. Then Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and the families that were now allowed to leave tried to get as far south as possible. In many cases, only their children made it all the way to safety in Iran. Some Polish orphans were resettled in places like South Africa and Mexico, but a group of 700 would end up travelling on a US Navy ship to the small island nation of New Zealand, on the other side of the world.
How did the children survive their perilous journey from Siberia to Iran, and end up in a place called Pahiatua in the New Zealand countryside? How did they adjust to a new life surrounded by sheep and cattle, and what happened when the camp they had begun to call home was finally shut down for good?
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[02:10] Deportation from Eastern Poland to Siberia
[06:15] Everyday life in the labour camps
[09:30] The USSR joins the allies, amnesty, and getting out of Russia
[12:08] The Polish Army gathers orphans from the countryside
[14:30] Arrival in Pahlavi and Isfahan
[16:25] Iran becomes dangerous and the children need to be resettled
[17:05] Leaving for New Zealand on a US Navy Transporter
[18:45] Arrival in Wellington and the camp in Pahiatua
[21:21] Life in the countryside
[23:49] The NZ government takes over caring for the children
[25:18] Settling down, finding careers and getting married
[28:03] Living with two cultures side-by-side
[28:50] The arrival of Stefania's parents
[30:30] Finding your place in the world
Further reading / watching
Written, produced & presented by Piotr Wołodźko
Edited by Adam Zulawski & Wojciech Oleksiak
Scoring & sound design by Wojciech Oleksiak
This episode was produced with help from the Embassy of Poland in Wellington. We'd like to extend many thanks to Ambassador Zbigniew Gniatkowski and Anna Gołębicka-Buchanan for helping us get in touch with the protagonists of our episode. We'd also like to say thank you to Stanisław Manterys, Malwina Zofia Rubisz Schwieters and Jozef and Stefania Zawada for telling us their story, and to Karolina Palej for her assistance.