Polish refugees arrive in New Zealand

1 November 1944

Peter Fraser and Countess Wodzicka with Polish children (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-003634-F)

Over 800 Polish refugees arrived in Wellington, seeking safety from war-torn Europe. For the 732 children and 102 adults it was the end of a long and perilous journey. They had survived deportation to the Soviet Union, forced labour in Siberia and evacuation to the Middle East before reaching New Zealand.

An estimated 1.7 million Poles were deported to labour camps in Siberia following the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in 1939. Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 prompted Joseph Stalin to send over 120,000 Polish prisoners to Iran, where they languished in refugee camps.

The Polish government-in-exile in London appealed for help finding temporary homes for them. In 1943 Prime Minister Peter Fraser invited a group of Polish children to New Zealand for the duration of the war. 

A camp for the children – dubbed ‘Little Poland’ – was established near Pahīatua in Wairarapa. Most of the refugees chose to settle in New Zealand after the war. Relatives joined some in the late 1940s, while a small number returned to Poland.

Community contributions

No comments have been posted about Polish refugees arrive in New Zealand

What do you know?