They were orphaned, lost, and alone. Yet a generation of World War II Polish child refugees found a new life and happiness in distant New Zealand.
By Anne Applebaum|Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 5:49 PM
... But in another sense there was a happy ending—one that we might usefully contemplate. In recent years, the gap in educational attainments of rich and poor Americans has grown wider, largely because of the enormous resources many of us pour into our children. Success, we have come to believe, depends on excellent schools, carefully organized leisure and, above all, on high-concentration, high-focus parenting.
The orphans of Pahiatua did not have any of these things. On the contrary, they had witnessed the deaths of parents and siblings, experienced terrible deprivation, and lost years of education before finding themselves in an alien country on the far side of the world. And yet they learned the language, they assimilated, they became doctors, lawyers, farmers, factory workers, teachers, and businessmen. Krystyna Tomaszyk—a Pahiatua child who became a pioneering social worker—told me over lunch that she was proud of their success. "We all had difficult childhoods. But none of us became criminals or vagabonds. We fit in."
There were reasons for that success. New Zealand boomed after the war: Logging and mining expanded, and work was easy to find. The Polish children had an unusually warm reception here at an unusual moment: Knowing where they had come from, people went out of their way to be kind.
But more than 70 years later, the now-elderly children of Pahiatua have an additional explanation. Zdzislaw Lepionka now believes that "the fact that we weree kept together, that we sang Polish songs and did scouting drills together— that was a kind of therapy."