Marysia Dac Jaśkiewicz’s family was transported from Poland to Russia in the middle of the night in 1939, when armed Russian soldiers surrounded her home and took them to the train that would take them to Siberia.
She remembered, as a very young child, being packed into a cattle carriage like sardines. The next few years were spent scavenging for food with her older sister and brother until they eventually got to a Persian (Iranian)
She lost her parents early in life. Her father was killed by Russian soldiers. Her mother died in a stable in Russia. She never forgot her mum’s last words.
“Mum said to us, ‘remember one thing: Our Lady. Don’t lose your faith and be faithful to your prayers,” Mrs Jaśkiewicz said. “Without faith, I don’t think I [would] be here now.”
Mrs Jaśkiewicz and her sister, Aniela, were among the 733 Polish refugee children who were settled in Pahiatua in November, 1944, with 105 caregivers.
This year, the Pahiatua Polish refugee children are celebrating the 75th anniversary of their arrival in New Zealand. For the first time, there will be a celebration held in Auckland.
John Wolk, event organiser, whose parents were Pahiatua children, said the reunions were traditionally held in Wellington, but they decided to hold one in Auckland for a couple of reasons.
“There will be a lot of the Polish elders in Auckland who, because of their age and frailty, may not be able to travel to Wellington. They have done their last Wellington reunion. So, it was appropriate to have something here for them,” Mr Wolk said. “And in the last ten months, I lost my mother. So, it’s a kind of recognition of her and for her.”
Mr Wolk said the Polish community, particularly those who were at Pahiatua, are still strongly connected, but “their strength is waning”.
“The children of the (Pahiatua) children, my generation, has assimilated into the community and are doing their own thing. We want to encourage the children of the children to come back and get involved in the community again and to take over from our parents and grandparents,” he said.
Mrs Jaśkiewicz is proud of her children and the children of her contemporaries who grew up as outstanding and contributing citizens to a country that has become her home. She said they have remained a strong Catholic community.
“Without faith, you have nothing. Who is closest to you? Nobody except God and Mary,” she said.
Mrs Jaśkiewicz said the reunion is important.
“We can leave a legacy to our children and they can pass it on to their children. It’s our history,” she said.
The Auckland reunion will be held over Labour Weekend. To kick off the celebrations, a Polish film will be screened at the Bridgeway Theatre in Northcote on the Thursday evening before Labour Weekend and another film will be screened on the Saturday of the same weekend.
There will be an afternoon tea at the Polish House in Morningside on the Saturday afternoon and a Mass at 11am on the Sunday at St Paul’s College chapel in Richmond Road in Ponsonby. The Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Denis Browne, Msgr Bernard Kiely and the Polish chaplain to Auckland, Fr Wieslaw Pawlowski, SChr.
More information can be found by going to www.aucklandpolishreunion.co.nz
Mr Wolk said the following weekend, November 1-3, will see the official commemorations take place in Wellington, where a number of events will be held.