The 4th May, 2016 will be a date remembered by many as a commemoration of good will and support offered to Polish World War II refugees by India and Indian people. Although this kind gesture of generosity happened more than 70 years, it is still remembered well by the Polish people, many of whom were children at the time, and who lived in India between 1942-48. This is something that very few Indian people know about.

Of the more than one million Poles who were deported by Stalin to Siberia and other remote parts of Russia, over 35,000 were able to say in India for several years. They lived in camps, were able to attend schools, set up scouting and folkloric groups, establish shops, build a church and have medical care. Five thousand of them were orphans. A maharaja Jam Saheb, fundraised to support 1000 orphans and build a camp for them next to his summer residence, so they could enjoy the beach, and better recover from their horrific experiences. There was a special fund set up called, Polish Children Fund, whereby wealthy Indians donated funds to support Polish children. The United Nations has recently formally recognised his efforts during that time.

The event was initiated and organised by the Australian Multicultural Community Services and IndianCare, based in Melbourne. Over 70 people who attended the afternoon tea at Victorian Parliament, had the privilege of listening to the first-hand experience of Sophie Skarbek, a Post WWII refugee who lived in India, with her mother and brother. She recalled the happy times in India, how the Polish people made friends with local Indians, shared food and traditions. Sophie also vividly remembers when Ghandi was killed and the sorrow she shared at the time with the Indian people. Sophie was also in India, when the country secured independence from the British occupation, and she remembers participating in the festivities and freedom celebrations at the time.

All present, were acutely aware of the uniqueness of the occasion that took place that day at Victorian Parliament. All Indian and Polish people and many other VIPs, were moved by the experiences and generosity.

Elizabeth Drozd – Chief Executive Officer AMCS