Attitudes towards #refugees remain negative among a large part of Polish society, which is why today, while we commemorate the victims of the #Holocaust, we also want to shed light on the topic of Polish refugees during #WorldWarII.
Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939 Poles found themselves to be occupied from all sides. The #USSR started deporting Polish citizens from the occupied lands into Soviet labour camps in #Siberia and the Urals. Estimates of the number of #deportations range from 320 000 to 1 million. After being transported in cattle cars and cargo trains, people were put to work and lived in atrocious conditions in the #gulags. Regardless of their age, everyone was forced to work, causing large numbers of deaths.
Two years later, in ‘42, the Sikorski-Majski pact was signed between the USSR and Polish Prime Minister Sikorski. Polish war prisoners on Soviet territory were accorded amnesty, and permission was granted to form a Polish army. Władysław Anders, a Polish general, formed the Polish Armed Forces, aka the Anders Army, which attracted not only soldiers but also civilians and orphans whose families had died in labour camps.
However, food provisions for the Polish Army were diminished, partly due to the ongoing war of the Soviets with Germany. A few weeks later, after the Anglo-Soviet invasion of #Iran in ’41, Stalin allowed the evacuation of nearly 116 000 Poles forming part of the ‘Army’ to Teheran, Mashhad, and Pahlevi.
Upon arrival, Polish refugees were in a terrible condition - ill, malnourished, and exhausted after the long journey. Many of them died on the way, but those who survived stayed in refugee camps until 1945. The large Polish community settled in Iran and Polish schools, shops, and cultural centres were established. Nevertheless, after three years only 3600 Poles remained in the country since Iran was never supposed to be a final destination. Following British interventions, Polish civilians were relocated to different parts of the world, including Lebanon, Palestine, India, Kenya, Uganda, and Mexico.
After having left #Iran, part of the displaced Poles were relocated to #India into 5 different refugee camps. The #Indian government agreed to accept 10 000 Poles, including 5000 orphans. The children were taken care of by the Polish #RedCross in #Bombay, while famous artist Hanka Ordonówna looked after them in the suburbs.
An important figure in the history of Polish refugees in India is the Maharaja #Digvijaysinhji of Nawanagar, who created the orphanage Polish Children Camp. Thanks to his support, he raised funds for Polish orphans and maintained the camp. This is why, to honour Digvijaysinhji, the Good Maharaja Square in Warsaw was named after him. At the same time, the Indian #Valivade is known today as ‘little Poland’, the largest Polish #refugee camp in the country with all facilities in it being constructed to resemble those in Poland.
Around 700 Poles arrived in #Mexico from India in ‘43. They were resettled to Santa Rosa, in the state of Guanajuato, around 300 km from Mexico City, where a large refugee camp that resembled a small city was established. According to the agreement, Poles were not allowed to look for employment during their time in Mexico, but facilities like schools, theatres, and hospitals were easily accessible. After ‘47, the Santa Rosa camp came to an end, and Poles left to find employment in the US or elsewhere, while others decided to return to their homes in Poland.
These are just a few examples of how other nations welcomed and supported Polish war refugees. In ‘45, when the war ended, there were around 5 million Poles living abroad. Some decided to return to Poland, while others got settled and started a new life far away from their homeland. Today, the estimated number of members of the Polish diaspora goes up to 20 million, making it one of the largest worldwide. Today, when people from other war-torn places are in need of support, it is important to remember that Poles were once in a similar position. This time it’s Poland’s turn to be the host and help those in need.