The Polish orphans of Pahiatua

Children from Eastern Poland who’d been deported by the Soviets, starved and orphaned were sent to a New Zealand refugee camp called Pahiatua in 1944, writes Anne Applebaum in Slate. Despite their childhood suffering and the loss of their families, the children of Pahiatua made good lives in their new country.

On Oct. 31, 1944, their ship pulled into Wellington harbor. More than 750 orphans, from toddlers to young teenagers, and 100 adult caretakers, teachers, and doctors disembarked. . . .  they stayed together, studied together, organized Polish scouting troops, and waited for the war to end so they could go home.

When the war was over, few had anyone to return to. Their former home, Eastern Poland, had been annexed by the Soviet Union. They made new homes in New Zealand. They started new families.

. . .  they had witnessed the deaths of parents and siblings, experienced terrible deprivation, and lost years of education before finding themselves in an alien country on the far side of the world. And yet they learned the language, they assimilated, they became doctors, lawyers, farmers, factory workers, teachers, and businessmen.

We believe children need “excellent schools, carefully organized leisure and . . .  high-concentration, high-focus parenting,” writes Applebaum. The Pahiatua orphans made do with a lot less.

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  1. George Larson says:

    Would not these be the children of the enemies of Communism? Wouldn’t the parents of these children be mostly middle class or upper class?

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      I didn’t follow the link, but my guess is they’re Jews.

      • Educationally Incorrect says:

        Why would you think that?

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          Because the Soviets were anti-Semitic.

          • Educationally Incorrect says:

            “Because the Soviets were anti-Semitic”

            That doesn’t mean that everyone deported by the Soviets was Jewish.

            Both my parents are from eastern Poland and my father’s entire family was deported to the Soviet Union during WWII along with a few hundred thousand other folks. It wasn’t for being Jewish, because they aren’t. People would get deported for having a family member suspected of any anti-soviet activity or sentiment.

    • According to this source, the Soviets started by arresting civil servants, military personnel, forestry workers (?), teachers and other educated people, but they went on to arrest and deport many others.

  2. Charles R. Williams says:

    The Soviets treated the Poles in the areas they annexed in 1939 as a threat. The leaders of Polish society were liquidated and large numbers of ordinary Poles were transported to the East under terrible conditions. These children were disproportionately from the educated classes.