Marysia née Dac Jaśkiewicz—for many years a stalwart member of our Auckland Polish Association—died on 10 June 2022.
One of the youngest of the Polish orphans who became known as the “Pahiatua children,” Pani Marysia arrived in New Zealand with her older sister, Aniela, in November 1944. They, and 836 other Polish children and adults, were supposed to spend the balance of WW2 in New Zealand and return to Poland, but post-war negotiations between the USA, Britain, and the USSR pushed Allied Poland into the Soviet sphere and the New Zealand government extended its invitation to the Poles who had already escaped the USSR, and had no wish to return to a communist-controlled post-war Poland.
For five years, the Pahiatua Children’s Camp provided young Marysia Dac with the stability she lost when Soviet soldiers barged into the family home in Przemyśl in February 1940 and bundled her parents, her brother, her sister, and her into a cattle train and sent them to a forced-labour facility in the Mołatowska region of the Urals. They joined the estimated 1.7-million Polish civilians similarly taken at gunpoint from their homes in eastern Poland in 1940 and 1941 and scattered in similar facilities throughout the USSR. Her eldest brother, Antoni, was not at home that fateful night, so spent WW2 in Poland.
Pani Marysia’s father, Władysław Dac, did not survive the harsh forced-labour under the command of the NKVD, Stalin’s Secret Police, who ran the facilities. One day he did not return from the dense taiga forest. Pani Marysia’s mother, Rozalia Dac, clung to life long enough to hear that the Poles had permission to leave the facilities in order to join a Polish army being formed on Russian soil: Hitler had invaded his former ally, the USSR, and Stalin expected to use the Poles to fight the Germans in Russia.
Rozalia Dac steered her children towards “freedom” but died in Kazakhstan. Pani Marysia remembered following her siblings Michał and Aniela until they were separated in Iran: Michał joined the Polish Military Cadets and the sisters were put into different orphanages in Isfahan.
Pani Marysia moved to Auckland after the Pahiatua Children’s Camp closed in 1949, came to grips with the English language, and became a dressmaker. She met her future husband by chance: Franciszek Jaśkiewicz and several of his friends happened to walk into the Italian restaurant where she worked.
For her 1961 wedding at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Avondale, she made her own wedding dress and those of her bridesmaids—and throughout her life spent thousands of hours at the sewing machine both professionally and voluntarily for her own family, others, and the church.
Pani Marysia and Franciszek made sure their four children, Zdzis (Jesh), Marysia, Basia, and Krysia absorbed their Polish heritage.
Former Pahiatua children living in Auckland kept in touch with one another and in 1960, their loose meeting arrangements became an official association. The Jaśkiewicz family, there from the start, poured their energies into creating a Polish “corner” where they could relax among their own traditions, food, and language. When Franciszek died in 1994, Pani Marysia continued to serve the Polish community and St Mary’s, the Catholic parish closest to her heart.
Pani Marysia did manage to see her beloved brothers again: After the war, Michał moved to England. During a visit there, after a Mass, the priest read out names of people in Poland looking for family: Pani Marysia’s ears pricked up at the name Antoni Dac, whom she eventually found and visited in Poland in 1987. Both Michał and Antoni died before Aniela in 2005.
Pani Marysia may have lived most of her life in New Zealand, but her heart remained in Poland.
Rest in peace. Or, as she used to say to her children, “Na razie, pa!”
For a fuller story on Pani Marysia, go to https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/marysia-dac-jaskiewicz/