How it all began…
by Barbara Scrivens
In 1927, at the Auckland Railway Station, an “unassuming little woman” pressed her way through the crowd greeting visiting Polish pianist Ignace Paderewski, and presented his wife, Helena, with a posy of sweet-smelling violets.
Helena Paderewski immediately recognised the flowers, abundant in Poland, and listened to the unnamed woman’s Polish voice telling her that they reminded her of her homeland, and that she hoped Madame Paderewski would be reminded too. The gesture and greeting in their native tongue so delighted the famous visitors that they chatted for some time, understood only among themselves and the Paderewski entourage.
The newspaper article in the Sun ran with the headline ROMANCE AND MUSIC – PADERWESKI ARRIVES – MADAME AND HER VIOLETS and mentioned that the local Polish woman was from Podolia. Paderewski was the Polish Prime Minister who signed the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI. His world fame as a pianist and politician took up the rest of the story.
Polish people had been arriving in New Zealand on and off since Captain Cook engaged two Polish naturalists to replace John Banks on his second voyage around the world between 1772 and 1775. Our southern islands appealed more to the early navigators and explorers than the top half of the North Island. On their outward journey to Tahiti, via New Zealand, the ship Resolution spent most of its time in Fiordland and Queen Charlotte Sound. On the way back to England—again via New Zealand— the younger Polish naturalist, writer and artist Jan Jerzy Adam Forster, wrote of how the crew admired Mount Egmont, “that prodigious peak which forms the north point of Cook’s Strait.” Auckland was still 65 years from being founded.
Regular newspapers in New Zealand emerged with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. In 1855, settlers in Auckland read in the Daily Southern Cross about the 5,000 men who made up a Polish Legion under Lord George Aberdeen’s British government. In 1861, the same newspaper covered an incident in Czeladz in Russian-partitioned Poland, where people tore down the Russian flag from public buildings and replaced it with the Polish eagle. Its readers, and readers of its competitor in Auckland, the New Zealander were able to follow the rapidly spreading insurrection against the Russian partitioning, the revolution’s zenith, and its end in 1865.
The first large groups of Polish settlers, who arrived in New Zealand between 1872 and 1876 under a government-assisted immigration scheme, were sent to places like Canterbury, Otago, and Taranaki. Then, the Auckland port and commercial centre did not seem to need extra labourers. The city had flourished thanks to the lucrative kauri gum and timber industries, and gold discovered in Thames stimulated its growth. Auckland’s geographical isolation did not seem to bother it, whereas provinces farther south lobbied for immigrant labour to build infrastructure such as railways, roads, and bridges to link towns and settlements.
Nearly 1,400 Poles arrived in New Zealand in the 1870s and 1880s. Of all the ships carrying those Poles to New Zealand, I can find only the Orari docking in Auckland with seven passengers saying they were from Poland. The ship arrived from Gravesend on 2 November 1876 with August and Anna (née Pologad) Krulodat and their infant daughter Anna, William and Anna Mueller, Peter Kmeadas, and Jos Clemaite.
August Krulodat changed his family to William Crowder. He became naturalised as a coalminer in 1896, and died a year later, aged 42, in an accident at the Taupuri coal mine. It is not clear what happened to the others. Mueller was a name that had been germanised from Meller. William and Anna may have been linked to the Muellers in Taranaki.
Kmeadas and Clemaite could have been a transcription of anything. New Zealand’s 1917 Enemy Alien records in Waikato caught a probable match for Kmeadas: Peter Kanadas, then aged 61, who was born in Russian Poland and had lived in New Zealand for 40 years. He died in 1924, and is buried as Peter Kawades at the Waikumete cemetery in Auckland.
Anna Ciepiełusz, who arrived as a 25-year-old in Wellington off the Shakespeare in 1875, had her name transposed as Ciefsing on the ship’s records. She died in 1925 and is buried as Annie Main in the Hillsborough cemetery in Auckland.
The Waikumete cemetery has two Poles who were among the last large group of Poles who left for Wellington via Hamburg in 1876 on the Fritz Reuter. They became enmeshed in an immigration controversy when the New Zealand government stopped accepting immigrants from continental Europe: John Fabish died in 1935, and Catharina née Myszewska Todd died in 1944. They were both nine when the Fritz Reuter docked in Wellington.
Anastasia née Lipinski Mitchell, who died in 1934, aged 82, is also in Waikumete. She travelled with her family on the Terpsichore, which docked in Wellington in 1876.
Frances née Spora Ofsoski, who also arrived off the Terpsichore, would have been 55 when the Paderewskis toured Auckland in 1927, but she was born in Pomorskie, and not Podolia, and would have been too young to remember Poland’s flowering violets, so could not have been the woman of the newspaper article. She died in 1948, and is buried at Auckland’s Waikaraka cemetery.
Researcher Jerzy Pobóg-Jaworowski, found 94 Polish citizens had settled permanently in New Zealand between 1921 and 1926, so one of the 31 women among them may have been Madame Paderewski’s violets-bearer. Pobóg-Jaworowski listed a total of 622 Poles arriving from 1921 to 1945, the most—79—in 1939. His 1944 figure did not include 838 Poles who did not arrive directly from Poland.
Other children off the 1876 Terpsichore, Anton Jacob Hinc, whose name changed to Hintz, his sister Elizabeth Martha née Hintz Waters, and his cousin Frances Antonia née Hintz Sullivan, all lived to see the end of WW2. They would have known about the 733 Polish children and their 105 caregivers, who arrived in New Zealand in November 1944 via then-Persia. They were among the Poles who escaped from the USSR in 1942 and 1943, and who became the darlings of the New Zealand media when Peter Fraser’s government invited them to stay for the balance of the war.
The children—many orphans or half-orphans—became known as the Pahiatua children thanks to their first accommodation at Pahiatua, a refurbished set of buildings on the site of the old racecourse that the New Zealand army modified into dormitories, classrooms, dining rooms, kitchen, hall, hospital, and a chapel.
Apart from a few toddlers, the children ranged in ages from about five to 18. Caregivers included some older siblings and parents who supported the teachers, a doctor, a dentist, a priest, and three nuns.
After the 1945 Potsdam conference left Poland under Stalin’s control, Prime Minister Fraser extended New Zealand’s offer of a refuge for the Poles already in New Zealand, and broadened the gesture to their family members demobilised in the UK.
Suddenly, the Pahiatua children who did not want to return to communist-controlled Poland had to prepare for a life in English-speaking New Zealand. Younger ones had the buffer of a few more years at the Pahiatua children’s camp, but the Catholic church, which sponsored the children, started to organise the older teenagers into Catholic high schools throughout the country, and asked Catholic families to foster the teenagers.
Janina Chrzczanowicz and Wanda Pelc, both born in 1928, and Krystyna Kołodzinska, born in 1931, arrived in Auckland in 1945 to attend the Sacre Cour girls’ secondary school, now Baradene College of the Sacred Heart.
By 1948, the Catholic Social Services (CSS) in Auckland had supervised the settlement of about 200 Polish teenagers from Pahiatua. St Mary’s College and Marist Girls High School accepted other Polish girls, and boys went to Sacred Heart and St Peter’s colleges. The director of the CSS was future bishop of Auckland, the then-Reverend Reginald John Delargey.
The older Poles found the English language tough. Janina Chrzczanowicz recalled her first job after finishing a course at the Auckland Business College and being hired as a shorthand typist. The timing coincided with her future boss being on holiday, and she was asked to look after the switchboard:
“I had no choice but to agree, not knowing a thing about it. There were eight lines and sometimes they would ring all at once. It didn’t look too difficult—until I started answering.
“Did I think I had mastered the English language? … Evidently not enough… I learned quickly. Not only did I answer the telephones all day but also all night in my sleep! Those two weeks were endless. Later… I realised how beneficial my crash course on the telephones had been.”
Meanwhile in Pahiatua, the children continued to live within their culture, traditions, and language. As the number in Auckland grew, they appreciated the company and friendship of others like them, gatherings where they did not have to search for words, where they were not reduced to stilted conversations, and where they did not have to worry that they would inadvertently say something inappropriate, but mostly, where they could be in the company of others with the same backgrounds and experiences, where they did not have to explain themselves, or why they happened to be in New Zealand.
As well as organising a monthly Polish Mass, the CSS held gatherings on Sunday afternoons at its hall in Pitt Street. Anna Kowalska, who later moved to Tasmania, hosted the first ones, and became one of the first presidents of an Auckland Polish Association separate from the main association in Wellington, where most of the Pahiatua children then lived.
By 1960, the Auckland Polish contingent included former Polish soldiers, who had started to join their families from 1947, and Poles who had spent the war in Germany, the so-called displaced persons who arrived in New Zealand from 1949 to 1952 with the help of the International Refugee Organisation. Some of the first presidents of the APA were Czesław Dobrowolski, Wanda Pelc, Tadeusz Mazur, Bogusław Januszkiewicz, and Jan Jarka. (I am aware that there are many other people who held the position, and would appreciate help in compiling a comprehensive list of past presidents, and the years they served. Anyone who can help, should send their information to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
These post-WW2 Polish Aucklanders hankered for what they called their own kącik (corner) and in 1963, under the leadership of Augie DaRankur, bought a property in Morningside. The house had to be modified. Three bedrooms were not needed, but a large gathering space was. Young Polish men learnt carpentry and other skills from older specialists as they demolished the bedrooms, tore down the ceilings, and turned the house into a place where they could socialise.
Michael Pąk and his mother arrived from Poland in 1956 to join his father and brothers: “I remember demolishing [the house] inside—everything—walls taken out, and ceilings. There were beams and we painted them black, and everything above it, and put white strings across… about nine inches apart… white against black, you couldn’t see what was behind. It made the place look bigger.
“People who came [to Auckland] from the [Polish] army, like my brothers Ted and Henry, learnt how to use a hammer and a saw, and at that time, it was easy to get a job. As long as you could drive a nail and cut timber, you had a job in the building trade. Kowalski, he was an electrician, and Nowacki, he knew how to measure…”
The house soon became a hub for Aucklanders connected by their Polishness. Other continental European nationalities joined their dance evenings, so popular in the 1960s.
Michał: “There was Hungarians, Czechs, and Lithuanians… At work, in factories, foreigners knew each other, and that’s how we communicated, and then there were Kiwi friends you invited. The hall was chock-a-block. Such things as amplifiers didn’t exist then. I remember making up the radiogram, just a machine, got some records, or the radio… and we danced to it.
“Sundays it was always open. Every Sunday, from 12 till five o’clock, half the church after Mass, would land up at the Polish House.”
The Auckland Polish Association had evolved from a tightly knit community of people with shared experiences in orphanages in Persia, and then Pahiatua, to one that grew to accept other post-war Poles with different war experiences.
One such person was Jadwiga Frykowska, described by Jan Jarka as “not a Pahiatua ‘old girl’ but who understood [the] ‘Children’ and their needs in exile.” Jan’s capitalised use of the word “Children” described the 733 who arrived in 1944. As a noun, they never aged.
In 1970, Jadwiga Frykowska organised the committee that oversaw the building of the current Dom Polski: Mietek Nowacki and Morris McGrath, Wanda Płusa’s husband, oversaw the building; Staszek Wołk, Franek Jaśkiewicz, Jan Jarka and Renata née Kazimierczak Kukiełko represented Pahiatua; Teofil and Julia Kantorski arrived off the Hellenic Prince from Germany in 1950; and Staszek Kolodzinski, who joined his mother, Zofia, and siblings.
Funding for the new build came from members giving $100 interest-free loans every year for five years. Many of those loans converted into donations.
The late Jan Jarka wrote the history of the Dom Polski in 2004: “In order to save costs of the removal of the old premises, and to the great delight of all of us and our neighbours, the original clubhouse was burnt down under supervision of the local fire brigade and a large number of interested spectators.
“The building of the new [hall] was carried out by the voluntary labour of the members, under the guidance of ticketed tradesmen… master builders, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and labourers. You name them and we had them. Even doctors, accountants and motor mechanics rolled up their sleeves to do what they could as helpers. They were ably supported by their wives and friends who provided them with meals, morning and afternoon teas, and the occasional vodka. Even New Zealanders joined the workforce. Our main costs were the purchase of the building materials, which were often bought at ‘mate’s rates.’”
Archbishop Delargey of Wellington blessed the Dom Polski on 8 February 1976 and held a Mass in the hall, which was officially opened on the same day by the mayor of Mt Albert, Frank Ryan, who had been at Sacred Heart with several of the Polish boys.
Jan Jarka in 2004: “Who knows what the future holds for us? So far so good, and we are glad to report that the new immigrants are taking a great interest in the community here, many joining us as full members and even as prezes/ chairpersons, such as Aleksander Wozniak [who joined his mother, Teodozja, and siblings] Józek Pisarek, Teresa Janowska and the current prezes Dr Dariusz Korczyk.”
Without ships’ passenger lists, it is impossible to estimate how many Poles arrived in New Zealand independently, but many did. WW2 veteran Tadeusz Kalinowski and his wife Joanna, both survivors of the USSR forced-labour facilities, arrived in Auckland with their four children in 1973, and stayed. They had previously lived in England and South Africa. Jan and Urszula Turkiewicz escaped Poland with their daughter in 1981. It was only once Jan was in Austria that he found a book confirming that his father had been among those murdered by the Soviet NKVD at Katyń in 1940.
In the 1970s and 1980s, members of the Polish association in Auckland received and embraced many Poles, who arrived under a variety of circumstances and reasons. Our current committee reflects that we are a destination for young, well-travelled Poles, born in Poland and educated under the auspices of the European Union.
The events of the past few years in our country and the rest of the world have shown how fragile life is. Today one cannot ignore television images of ragged, desperate refugees trying to cross borders to safety. There are still elderly Poles in our community who went through the same kind of traumas while escaping the USSR. Back then, their stories and suffering were hidden.
Of some 1.7-million Poles taken at gunpoint in eastern Poland between 1939 and 1941—mostly from their homes in the dark, early hours—to prisons and forced labour facilities in the USSR, fewer than 10 percent made it out. Then, the world could say it did not know. By 1945, International Refugee Organisation numbers show nearly 900,000 of the estimated 2-million Poles forcefully relocated to work in Germany during the war, were still living in IRO displaced persons camps.
In the end, I have given the last words to Marshal Józef Piłsudski. He led Poland to independence during the final stages of WW1, and died in 1935: The quotation appears on one of three plaques on the plinth of his statue overlooking Piłsudski Square and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw:
Auckland, September 2021.
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The Paderweski newspaper article was from page 1 of the Sun (Auckland), on 28 June 1927, through Papers Past, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/SUNAK19270628.2.4 .
The illustration can be found at https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/SUNAK192706220.127.116.11
The articles from the Daily Southern Cross were published on 13 November 1855, page 3; 31 December 1861, page 4; 20 February 1863, page 5; 20 March 1865, page 7.
The article from the New Zealander was published on 25 April 1863, page 3. All the articles were sourced through Papers Past, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers which digitises them through the National Library of New Zealand.
Numbers for Poles arriving in New Zealand between 1921 and 1945 thanks to Jerzy Pobóg-Jaworowski, History of the Polish Settlers in New Zealand, pages 127 – 131, printed in 1990 by CHZ Ars Polonia, Warsaw.
Janina Chrzczanowicz’s story is from page 128 of New Zealand’s First Refugees, Pahiatua’s Polish Children, which marked the 60th anniversary of the 838 Poles arriving in New Zealand, and which was published by the Polish Children’s Reunion Committee.
I interviewed Michał Pąk in August 2019.
Jan Jarka’s son, Michael, gave me the history his father wrote.
Stories of some of the Poles who arrived in New Zealand after WW2 can be found at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/war-immigrants/