On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, signalling the beginning of World War 2 in the West. The Germans and the Red Army invaded the small country, and the rest of the war saw Poland divided between the two powers, with the native Poles desperate to flee prosecution.
India helped thousands of Poles during the Second World War, kids who were separated from their parents or orphaned during Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
The refugees made an arduous journey, in trucks, across Turkmenistan, Iran and Afghanistan to India. Many Polish families made it to refugee camps in Nagpur, Kolhapur and Mumbai.
A contingent of them managed to land at the Mumbai docks. However, the British Governor refused them entry. This was when Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja of Nawanagar stepped in.
The Maharaja was fed up with the British lack of empathy, and decided to take matters into his own hands. He ordered the ship to dock at Rosi port, in his province. From the time the ship docked, the Maharaja took every conceivable step to make the guests as comfortable as possible.
The 1,000 children, all aged 15 and under, required education, boarding facilities and caretakers.
The magnanimous Maharaja spared no expense and offered to build a school for the kids. Providing them food and shelter, near his palace.
Only a few of the original 1,000 children of the Camp Balachadi still survive, but they vividly recall the memories of their journey from Poland to this town in the Jamnagar district.
For example, since the refugees couldn’t eat spicy food, the Maharaja arranged for seven young cooks from Goa to prepare less spicy food, according to Wieslaw Stypula, one of the survivors, now over 90-years-old. Roman Gutowski remembers how the Maharaja taught them to swim in the sea. One couple, Jadwiga and Jerzy Tomaszek, met at the camp, and married decades later-something they thank the Maharaja for.
2018 will mark a 100 years of Polish independence after the First World War.
On this historic day, these Polish nationals will make the journey once again, albeit under very different circumstances. They feel a deep sense of gratitude towards India, and its citizens, for giving them protection in Balachadi.
The idea came when a documentary film, titled ‘A little Poland in India” was made. Anu Radha, the producer of the documentary, recalls how it took more than a year to find all the remaining survivors in Poland, and speak to them about their time spent in India, from 1942-1946.
The producer is keen on bringing the survivors back for celebrations at the Balachadi school, which is now a Sainik School, in October 2018. Anu explains that each year the number of survivors dwindles, so a good get-together is always welcome.
This year, the celebrations will be presided over by Ambassador Burakowski, who is coincidentally a graduate of the school named after the Maharaja in Warsaw.
The Survivors of Balachadi, will convene, and celebrate life, the end of the war, and the Maharaja, who tried his very best, to mitigate the horrors of their displaced childhood.
A fantastic end to a noble effort.