1939 - 1948

Passage to India

Polish History Museum

Polish settlements in Balachadi and Valivade

The sojourn of Polish refugees in India is an extraordinary story of an encounter between two communities whose cultures were very different in terms of language and the climate of their native lands, yet who were brought together by the tragic events of the Second World War. It is a story of human relationships, of the ability to live side by side and reach an understanding; a story of goodness, kindness, sensibility, and of universal values: compassion, and readiness on the part of citizens of the host country to bring aid to those in need.
The example of Polish settlements in India is, moreover, a marvelous lesson in identity: a lesson in people’s exceptional attachment to Polish tradition, all the stronger for the difficulties that staying in touch with their homeland entailed. It is the story of the will to survive, to live one’s daily life even in adverse circumstances; the story of the tremendous importance of education, both institutional and extracurricular.

The outbreak of War
On 1 September 1939, Poland was attacked by Nazi Germany. The Second World War began. Sixteen days later, in accordance with a secret protocol to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact signed on 23 August, Poland was also attacked by the Soviet Union. Having divided the Polish lands between themselves, the two states sought to not only seize the country’s territory and resources but also to enslave its people, wipe out its elites and subordinate it to their totalitarian regimes.

Military defeat notwithstanding, the Polish government, headquartered in France then from June 1940 in London, continued to operate and was recognized by other Allied countries and neutral states. Polish diplomatic posts were operating; the Polish Armed Forces fought in the West alongside France then, following the defeat of France, alongside Great Britain.

Soviet deportations
In December 1939, the Soviet government took the definitive decision to remove “politically unreliable elements” from occupied territories: representatives of the professional classes and of social groups considered hostile to the process of sovietization. As a result, large-scale deportations of Polish people deep into the USSR took place between February 1940 and June 1941. As a rule, entire families were deported, including children and the elderly. The largest deportation centers were in the Krasnoyarsk Krai [federal district] and Kazakhstan, as well as in the districts of Archangelsk, Sverdlovsk, Irkutsk and Molotov.
“Amnesty” and the Anders’ Army
Following the outbreak of the Soviet-German war in June 1941, talks began between Stalin and the Polish government in exile. These concluded with the signing of the Sikorski-Mayski agreement (30 July 1941). In August 1941, Soviet authorities issued an “amnesty” decree for Polish citizens. The use here of the word “amnesty” in quotation marks emphasizes the fact that the procedure extended to people who had been deported and imprisoned because of their nationality or social status, contrary to international law and in breach of human rights.

The Polish-Soviet agreement enabled the Polish Embassy to resume operations, and gave Polish people an opportunity to leave their places of exile. Moreover, it created a legal basis for the formation of the Polish Army in the USSR, under the command of Gen. Władysław Anders (hence the name Anders’ Army). The army was a component of the Polish Armed Forces, subordinate to the government in London.

Aid was provided to the masses of civilians who reached the army and sites where legations of the Polish Embassy were operating. Aid consisted mostly of providing food and medication supplied by the governments of the Republic of Poland, Great Britain and the US, as well as by the Polish, British and American Red Crosses. Thousands of children were among those in need. Hospitals, orphanages, community centers and army-run schools for members of boys' and girls' youth organizations were established. By late 1942, the Polish Embassy evacuated from Moscow to Kuybyshev had set up 807 care institutions.

“The present state of hygiene and food supplies in the Soviet Union, coupled with the extreme exhaustion of the children, makes taking them abroad the only possible way of saving them.
I therefore request that the government look into this issue as soon as possible, and take at least 50,000 children out of the Soviet Union, quartering them in British territories in Asia and Africa. …

[...] I stress that this is the only possible way of saving these children, who will otherwise be condemned to death and thus be lost to Poland forever.”
Excerpt from Ambassador Stanisław Kot’s cable from Kuybyshev, sent to Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski and to the Minister of Labor and Welfare, 6 May 1942, in: Archiwum Akt Nowych (New Files Archive).

“Each of these children carried a tragedy within. How to find a way into their hearts, which are so wounded that a mere word can touch on some painful memory? Should one comfort these children, or is it better to let them digest their old pain, and concentrate on protecting them from fresh tribulations and distress; and see to it that new cares do not deepen the blemishes on their pained souls?”
Weronika Hort [Hanka Ordonówna], "Tułacze dzieci."

By late September 1941, all sites for troop formation were already filled beyond capacity. From April 1942, Polish-Soviet relations were becoming more and more tense. Soviet authorities had begun to hinder the formation of Polish military units and the delivery of food supplies to the troops. General Anders set about evacuating his army from the USSR to the Middle East. This solution had an additional advantage to the British, in that it enabled an increase in the number of troops in oil-rich areas (which were under threat of a German offensive). In 1942 (in late March and early April, then from August to early September), two large-scale evacuation operations were successfully completed. The evacuees were members of the armed forces and civilians (mostly military families).

Transports traveled over the Caspian Sea from the port of Krasnovodsk (today Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan) to Pahlevi (today Bandar-e Anzali, Iran). Evacuation also took place by land, from Ashgabat to Mashhad. More than 2,600 people (including 650 children) traveled this route until 20 September 1942. In total, over 116,000 people (including approximately 41,000 civilians) were transported with Anders' Army.

These numbers include at least 20,000 children up to age 18. It is estimated that approximately 77,000 children remained on Soviet territory after the evacuation.
After that, there were no further evacuations. Polish-Soviet relations were broken off in spring 1943, after the discovery of mass graves of Polish prisoners of war (some 22,000 people) whose executions Stalin ordered in March 1940, in the Katyń atrocity.

“We are finally given permission to pile in the cars. At that moment an unexpected thing happened. Our thus-far disciplined gang rushed chaotically to the nearest car. What if there isn’t enough room? …

…Cries, din, bustle. Someone fell, someone lost something, someone spilled the contents of their bundle. Suddenly a strong male voice could be heard above the bustling bunch: Halt! Return to your places! The racket stopped as suddenly as it began.”
Wiesław Stypuła’s (then age 11) account of transport from Ashgabat to Mashhad in summer 1942, in: W. Stypuła, "W gościnie u 'polskiego' maharadży."

Following evacuation, the Polish armed forces under General Anders’ command were integrated into the structures of the Polish Army in the East, stationed in Iraq, Iran and Palestine. The majority of civilians (mostly women and children) were quartered during 1942 and 1943 in numerous settlements that came into being in Asia and Africa, as well as Mexico and, in 1944, in New Zealand. Polish consulates, as well as legations of the Ministry of Labor and Welfare and the Ministry of Religious Denominations and Public Enlightenment, were established in all these locations. Their task was to look after Polish civilians.

Passage to India 
The largest transports of Polish people from Iran to Africa were taking place at a time when the Allies’ war situation was at its most difficult. “In summer 1943, we were transferred by train from Ahvaz to the port of Khorramshahr on the Shatt al-Arab (a combination of the Tigris and the Euphrates), and from there by ship to Karachi. Given that Japanese submarines were prowling the Indian Ocean, one was not allowed to smoke a cigarette or have any sort of light on board: even the flicker of a match could be seen from 20–30 kilometers. Nor were we allowed to throw leftovers overboard, as they would alert the Japanese. Our ship was part of a bigger convoy: 6 to 10 ships overseen by corvettes armed with depth charges.” Account of Albin Tybulewicz, in: "Polskie dzieci na tułaczych szlakach 1939-1950."

Sending aid from India to Polish citizens deported to the USSR had been inaugurated in a bold humanitarian mission organized by the Polish consulate in Mumbai (Bombay) and the Polish Red Cross delegation. A convoy of trucks carrying 60 tons of material aid departed from Mumbai on 11 November 1941, and arrived safely in Ashgabat on 30 December, having crossed the mountainous Soviet-Iranian border. In May 1942, another such transport was successfully completed along the same route.
This convoy paved the way from Ashgabat (USSR) to Mashhad (Iran) and, after Moscow had given consent to take children away, the mission also enabled the return transport of trucks to be used for the evacuation of Polish orphans from the USSR. As a result, around 170 orphans were taken in mid-March 1942. The total number of evacuees via this route was nearly 3,000 people – children and adults, mostly civilians.

Both the humanitarian expedition and the evacuation of children were the initiative of Consul General Eugeniusz Banasiński. Both he and his wife, Kira (head of the Polish Red Cross and Ministry of Labor and Welfare delegations), were engaged in organizing aid for Poles on Indian territory; and from 1942 they actively supported the organization of refugee transports from the USSR and the establishment of refugee settlements.
Among the guardians of the earliest transport, with 173 Polish orphans in April 1942 from Mashhad to India, was singer and actress Hanka Ordonówna, a star of the Warsaw stage and theater in the 1930s who had been deported by the NKVD from Wilno (Vilnius) in 1941.

Settlements in India
Transit camps were established in Bandra (near Mumbai), Quetta, Country Club (near Karachi) and Malir (the last three within Pakistan today); and permanent settlements were set up in Balachadi and Valivade. Compared to the USSR, transit camps at last provided opportunities of efficient medical treatment, of restoring children’s emotional equilibrium and providing them with a semblance of a normal childhood.

Front page of “Głos Werandy” [Veranda Voice] (year I, no. 5, 19 May 1942), a newspaper for the transit camp at Bandra, written longhand in pencil by Tadeusz Herzog, age 15.

Teresa Kurowska and Renata Żelichowska in Kraków attire posing with American soldiers of Polish descent visiting the Country Club transit camp, 1944.

The Polish Children’s Settlement at Balachadi 
Consent of the Indian authorities was needed to bring Polish orphans to India; in addition, the children had to be provided with accommodations and means of support. When in January 1942 the government in Delhi responded positively to the possibility of receiving 500 children, Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji offered a location for an orphanage at Balachadi in the duchy of Nawanagar near Jamnagar, which was under his rule. 

The maharaja’s commitment and personal example encouraged other princes to donate to the specially established Fund for the Relief of Polish Children. The fund provided for the orphans until the end of the war, so that no funding from the Polish government was necessary.

Poland’s lot was known to the maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji even before the war: he learned about it from his paternal uncle, Maharaja Ranjitsinhji, who served as India’s delegate to League of Nations sessions from 1920 to 1923 and, during that time, befriended Ignacy Paderewski. The young Maharaja Digvijaysinhji visited Switzerland with his uncle, and thus had the opportunity to meet the eminent Polish musician and statesman. Later, in wartime London, he met Gen. Władysław Sikorski and others. He had a liking for Poles and cared about their lot.

The first group of its young inhabitants arrived at the Balachadi settlement in mid-July 1942. Most buildings were single story, built of wood and masonry and roofed with red tiles. Measurements of children’s rooms were 5 x 40 meters, and each housed 20 to 30 people.

For each young resident there was a bed, a small table or shelf and a small chest for personal belongings. Along with these a hospital, school, community center, chapel, dining room and washrooms, storehouses, housing for the orphanage staff, as well as sport fields and a drill ground, were all established in the settlement. Through 1942, approximately 650 children (aged 2 to 15) arrived in the settlement.

Father Franciszek Pluta, a military chaplain in Anders’ Army, became the settlement’s commander-in-chief. He was remembered as severe but at the same time as a good manager, working ardently for the benefit of the children and dedicated to the settlement and its affairs. He was also the Balachadi community chaplain.

The maharaja’s kindness as a friend and the good spirit of the settlement, but also his stature and his wealth, made him seem like a fairy-tale character to the children. He participated in all major celebrations, stage performances and sports contests at the settlement; he also invited the children to his palace. He showed an unwavering interest in the work of the settlement, and was ready to assist in difficulties as they emerged.

The Polish town of Valivade
The location of the settlement in Valivade near Kolhapur was specially selected due to its climate, particularly favorable to Europeans, and access to potable water. The settlement was founded a year after Balachadi and was one of the largest permanent settlements for Polish refugees (around 5,000 people had passed through it by 1948). Rather than barracks, the settlement was planned as a system of light buildings with interiors divided into individual quarters (or rooms for single people), each with the basic equipment of bed, table, chair, dressing table, cooking stove (Valivade was a self-catering location, with families receiving catering benefits), so that the refugees would have at least a substitute for home. The first group of Poles arrived in Valivade on 11 June 1943.

Valivade was a family settlement inhabited by mothers with their children and men unfit for military service. It had a board modeled on that of a Polish town, with a "starosta" or district head presiding over the board. Capt. Władysław Jagiełłowicz was the first to serve as "starosta". He was posted to Valivade from the transit camp in Malir, where he had been in charge. When he took office as "starosta", the site was still under construction; thus it was up to him to insure that Valivade ran efficiently from the very beginning, and to decide in which direction the settlement would develop. He took up both tasks with excellent results.

Many adults not employed in administration or the school system became involved in
a variety of useful initiatives: a Polish publishing house, butcher shops or the “Zgoda” cooperative were in operation, to cite but a few. This last initiative brought together workshops of different craftsmen (tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, etc.) as well as service centers such as the hairdresser and the cafeteria.

Wherever Polish settlements were being established, even only transit facilities, schooling began immediately despite initial shortages of staff, schoolbooks and school equipment. With time, the educational systems at Balachadi and Valivade became extremely well organized, with about a dozen institutions in operation: preschools and elementary schools, middle and high schools, as well as vocational schools and courses offering high teaching standards. The curricula, annual reports and grading systems were modeled on the school structure of prewar Poland. This would not have been possible were it not for the tremendous work and personal commitment of everyone involved: teachers and tutors, as well as representatives of the Polish authorities who supervised the camps.

“Usually classes ran smoothly; it was only from time to time that calamity (in the form of
a malaria epidemic) struck. There were periods when absence due to illness reached 50 to 60 percent. But it was much worse when the teachers succumbed to malaria, as there was virtually no one to stand in for them.”
In: W. Stypuła, "W gościnie u 'polskiego' maharadży."

Wiesław Stypuła’s first school report: the teacher gave students grades and they wrote up the “document” by hand, Balachadi.

Extracurricular activities
Cultural education was also provided: libraries and community centers were in operation. In the community centers, themed talks were held and books from the curriculum were read aloud. There were also other activities, which enabled residents to develop their various skills and talents and, most important, to get to know and to remain close to Polish culture. Theater and dance groups and musical ensembles were performing for British as well as Indian audiences from outside the settlement. They also gave frequent guest performances at maharajas’ palaces, as well as in Kolhapur and Mumbai (for instance, school students from Valivade presented Polish dances in Mumbai on several occasions – mazurkas, cracoviennes and highlanders’ dances).

The Valivade settlement had its own highly committed amateur-theater company. A highlight of the company’s work was the performance of Act III of “Wesele” [The Wedding], staged to mark the 11 November holiday. Anna Tetmajerowa, the original model for the character of the hostess, lived in the settlement at the time.

Most reminiscences from India highlight the pivotal role of scouting. Scouts’ meetings, bonfires, soireés, treks, social and cultural activities, even the publication of their own little magazines and books (in the Indian Scouting Pocket Library at Valivade), shaped attitudes of members of the scouting movement, influencing them for the rest of their lives.

“In India, people were hard pressed for families; in fact, there were hardly any families at all. There were mothers with children and children on their own, in an orphanage. Fathers were either at the front or they remained among the snows of Siberia, in the soil of Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan. ...

…Some mothers remained, too: they could not be evacuated, or were laid to eternal rest in a faraway land. […] And fathers were missed, oh, how sorely missed! Particularly by the boys! Small boys took to older boys, hence the prominent role of all the cub-scout and scout team leaders.”
Reminiscences of Anna Gwiazdonik (née Handerek), in: "Polacy w Indiach 1942–1948 w świetle dokumentów i wspomnień."

Scouting was a school of responsibility, self-reliance, perseverance, community spirit and patriotism; for many it was also the adventure of a lifetime, thanks particularly to camping trips and hikes organized in the midst of the exotic, dangerous natural world at the edge of the jungle.

“Scout camp provided opportunities to win many badges, but our greatest ambition was to win the Three Feathers badge. Winning it involved many difficulties and a lot of risk. The regulations required us to spend 24 hours in hiding outside our camping place, keeping silent and feeding on whatever we could find or hunt. …

[…] And so we were each given a slice of bread, a tin of sardines, three matches and several kali crystals (as a disinfectant). Apart from that, we each had a knife, a kerchief, a cloak, a water bottle and our backpack.”
Reminiscences of Staszek Harasymów, in: "Polacy w Indiach 1942–1948 w świetle dokumentów i wspomnień."

Alongside schooling and scouting, sport was another crucial element of education. Not only did it provide an extremely useful way to improve children’s physical stamina, it was also an excellent way for them to occupy their free time. Numerous sports teams and sections were established in volleyball, basketball and football; there was also training in athletics, tennis and table tennis, shooting, swimming, canoeing and others. Various competitions, races and prize competitions were held in the settlements. Those in Balachadi and Valivade had their own football squads, competing against much more experienced British and Indian teams. Crucially, though schooling was compulsory while scouting, sports and other extracurricular activities were voluntary, residents took part in the latter on a mass scale.

“And lo and behold, just when it seemed the match would end in a draw, the tireless Dedena began his dance in front of his opponents’ goal. After double-crossing two players, he got into a fierce confrontation with the third. Losing strength, he made a last effort to pass the ball to Antoś, who was just then running into open field. And he succeeded: Antoś feinted past the last defender and struck the ball so hard that the goalkeeper was at a loss to react. …

The goals had no nets, so the ball soared far, far away, landing right by the school building. By the time someone was able to bring the ball back, the referee blew his final whistle. What happened afterwards defies description. Our players were so overjoyed that they started to run all over the field like madmen. There was no end to mutual hugging and back-slapping.”
Reminiscences of Wiesław Stypuła, in: "Polacy w Indiach 1942–1948 w świetle dokumentów i wspomnień."

Antoni Maniak – prewar player for Pogoń, the Lwów (today Lviv) football club. Like the majority of the teaching and tutoring staff, he was delegated from the army to work in the settlement. In Balachadi, he was responsible for organizing the physical-education program. He was an excellent trainer who drilled his charges in physical efficiency and skills.

Patriotic and religious instruction
Great significance was attached to patriotic and religious instruction, programmatically provided by school, and to scouting as well as sports and other extracurricular activities. “Remember that, abroad, each Polish refugee is an ambassador of the Most Serene Republic.” Quoted from a speech by Gen. Władysław Sikorski, included in The Refugee Book.

Pages from the Refugee Book in India. These books were issued by the delegation of the Polish Ministry of Labor and Welfare in Mumbai to all Polish refugees in the settlements. They were used to keeping records of financial and material aid; in addition, they included five rules of conduct.

Polish-Indian relations
During the six years they spent in India, Polish refugees had varied opportunities to come into contact with the Indian community. After an initial period of mutual mistrust, good and even friendly relations were being established. Several Polish-Indian marriages came about. Indians usually worked as English teachers; local people employed in the settlements or working as tradesmen formed another large group: a big bazaar with Indian stalls was established on the outskirts of Valivade. Opportunities for coming into closer contact were greater at Balachadi, where Indians posted by the maharaja worked as teachers and tradesmen, and as doctors, music teachers and cooks (about 50 percent of settlement service was provided by locals).

Souvenir photos from a month-long expedition across southern India organized by Wanda Dynowska (seated, center). A group of twenty-five young people gave performances of Polish songs and national dances, while also learning about the culture, art, architecture and traditions of their host country.
Umadevi – Dynowska’s Indian name – endeavored to pass her knowledge on to residents of the Valivade settlement by, for instance, a series of talks.

Collaboration and friendly relations were also established between Polish and Indian scouts. In August 1947, when Polish scouts had not been invited to participate in the Sixth Jamboree in France (in 1946 the World Scouting Organization had revoked membership of the Polish Scouting Union [ZHP] functioning abroad), they organized a bonfire together with their Indian counterparts. When the Valivade settlement had been closed and Polish people were leaving India, scouting equipment was passed on to Indian scouts.

Poles, deprived of a free homeland, understood Indians’ aspirations to freedom very well. On 15 August 1947, there were joint celebrations of India’s newly acquired independence, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw (the battle that repulsed the Bolshevik invasion in 1920).

Closing the settlements
For refugees in India, Africa, Iran, Mexico and New Zealand, the end of the war did not mean a safe return to Poland. As a result of arrangements made after the war and the so-called Yalta order, those who had roots in the eastern borderlands were no longer able to return home. Furthermore, Poland, within its new borders, was included in the Soviet sphere of influence, with the communist government oppressing many of those who returned. After experiences of Soviet occupation and forced-labor camps, the refugees were under no illusion as to what life would be like in communist Poland, governed at Stalin’s bidding.

Only 20 percent of those who succeeded in getting out of the USSR with the Anders’ Army chose to be repatriated to Poland. It was mainly those whose loved ones remained in Poland who made the decision to return. However, nostalgia for their country, the desire to contribute to its rebuilding after the ravages of war, and the hope that things would get better, also motivated some to return.

“An opportunity to return suddenly came up: not to our birthplace, true, but at least to our homeland. Staying in various foreign lands had weighed on us heavily. Because we couldn’t speak foreign languages, we’d felt isolated; and the fact that we had no homeland made us feel humiliated.”
Reminiscences of Alojzy Grubczak, in: "Polacy w Indiach 1942–1948 w świetle dokumentów i wspomnień."

Making the decision to remain an expatriate was hardly the choice for an easier, better life. The situation deteriorated further when, in July 1945, recognition of the Polish government in London was revoked and Polish settlements lost the formal and financial grounds on which they operated.

Transferring custody of refugees to UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) and subsequently from 1947 to the Refugee Organization (which was also in charge of repatriation) was not without its problems. Uncertainty, mistrust and confusion were rife; contradictory information was spread.

The British encouraged Poles to return home; representatives of the authorities in Warsaw arrived at the settlements with the same purpose. In the cases of those whose family members served in the Polish Armed Forces in the West, families were brought together and departures to the UK were arranged.

Returns and commemorations
Friendships and other bonds, often as strong as family ties, that were formed during period in India are cultivated to this day. The “Polish Indians” have organized trips to India; in particular, great care was taken to restore Polish graves that remain there. Contact with the Indian community was renewed; places of Polish settlements were commemorated.

Reunion of the “Balachadi children”: Wiesław Stypuła (left) and Stefan Bukowski (right), with the son of Maharaja Digvijaysinhji, after the festive unveiling of the monumental plaque commemorating Polish children's stay at the Balachadi settlement.

Former employees of the Balachadi settlement, forty years later – photo from a meeting with Jamnagar Club members during the club's trip to India in 1985.

“Ode to Youth” by Adam Mickiewicz, translated from English into Gujarati in 1946 by Anant Joshi, who worked as a physician at the Balachadi settlement. The Indian doctor (who wrote his translation by hand on a piece of paper) kept it for decades as a precious memento. In 1985, he presented it to a group of Poles who had been charges of the settlement as children, and who were then visiting India.

Credits: Story

The Management of Polish History Museum would like to thank the following individuals and institutions for their assistance in organizing the exhibition (in alphabetical order):
Zbigniew Bartosz
Andrzej Chendyński
Teresa Glazer
Wanda Kuraś
Artur Niewęgłowski
Danuta Pniewska
Wiesław Stypuła
the Association of Poles in India 1942–1948

Written by: Ewa Wójcicka
Historical consultation: Prof. Janusz Wróbel
Collaboration: Wiesław Stypuła (Balachadi settlement), Teresa Glazer, Danuta Pniewska
(Valivade settlement)
Editing: Dorota Szkodzińska, Agata Milczarek, Maciej Jaworski
Translation: Joanna Błachnio
English version edited by: Alan Lockwood

Quotation sources:
Weronika Hort [Hanka Ordonówna], "Tułacze dzieci" [Wandering Children], Beirut 1948, p. 125
Wiesław Stypuła, "W gościnie u 'polskiego' maharadży" [Hosted by the "Polish" Maharaja], Grajewo 2011, pp. 21, 80
"Polacy w Indiach 1942–1948 w świetle dokumentów i wspomnień" [English edition: Second World War Story: Poles in India 1942–1948: based on archive documents and personal reminiscences, London 2009], joint publication, London 2000, pp. 128, 493, 537, 598
"Polskie dzieci na tułaczych szlakach 1939–1950" [Polish Children on Wanderer’s Trails 1939–1950], edited by Janusz Wróbel and Joanna Żelazko, Warsaw 2008, p. 230
Archiwum Akt Nowych [New Files Archive], Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London, catalog no. 1843

Credits: All media
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