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From Poland to Pahiatua

The Polish president has announced plans to travel to the White House, the Vatican and to Wellington to meet Masterton man Vic Domanski and other Polish children of Pahiatua.

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Masterton man Witold (Vic) Domanski says it is a great privilege and honour to be invited to meet Polish President Andrzei Duda in Wellington later this month and grins as he says he has been forbidden by his children to make any speeches.

The Republic of Poland last week announced Duda will visit the White House and the Vatican in the fourth year of his term as president but first in August will make an “historic” visit to New Zealand.

The New Zealand government was expected to publish details of the visit, the first by a Polish president, yesterday.

The 88-year-old thinks he likely got the invitation because he has written a book A New Tomorrow, the story of a Polish-Kiwi family, and last November gave a speech at the unveiling of a new plaque in Pahiatua.

Domanski, his future wife Anna Kozlowska, sisters Stasia and Zosia and family friends were among the 733 Polish children who came to live in New Zealand in November 1944.

His older brother Leon Domanski, who lives in Wellington, drove water tankers as a teenager during the Battle of Monte Cassino and arrived in New Zealand in 1948.

Vic Domanski was nine years old when Soviet soldiers appeared in September 1939 in Poniatowka in the east of Poland where his family lived. The area later became part of Ukraine.

He tells in the book of how his family were forcibly removed from their farm.

“At gunpoint, our father was ordered to surrender all weapons in his possession. When satisfied that he had no weapons in the house, the policeman ordered us to pack our belongings for a long journey.”

He wrote of being bewildered and confused and of being given one hour, maybe less, to get ready.

A long journey on freight trains to work camps deep in forests in northern Russia followed.

When the Soviets temporarily restored Polish citizenship with the “amnesty of 1941”, the family endured another harrowing journey, this time southwards through Russia to Iran.

Domanski said he and his sisters at one point were selected to be sent to South Africa but his father, who was in Norwich in England at the time cooking for a Polish bomber squadron, heard New Zealand was a good place to go to and managed to intervene.

Domanski said he had no idea where New Zealand was and had very little knowledge of the country.

He remembers arriving in Wellington Harbour and looking at all the lights in houses on the hills at night.

“It was just like a Christmas tree,” he said.

The camp in Pahiatua had been built for Italian and German internees but was no longer needed for that purpose.

He said it was on a former race course and the Polish children enjoyed climbing up the watch towers until someone decided it was too dangerous and “they were removed fairly quickly”.

The Polish children were expected to be in New Zealand temporarily “and that we would all go back, all of us”.

But that wasn’t possible and most remained in New Zealand, where they built lives. Domanski married Anna and they had three children, Robert, Helena and Peter.

Domanski worked in the insurance industry and was transferred to several different towns and cities.

He said the Polish were called “bloody foreigners” and were told to speak English but the pressure eased when the “ten pound Poms” arrived and the jibes about being foreign focused on them.

He said it wasn’t until a job transfer to Invercargill until he really felt acceptance and equality.

“There was no prejudice there whatsoever,” he said.

He said there were a lot of Dutch migrants there, many arriving after Indonesian independence.

He said in Invercargill people “would look at you at first but once accepted you were ‘top of the world’.”

When he retired he and Anna looked around and every time they came over “the hill” to Wairarapa they liked it more and more.

They settled on a lifestyle block they named Gospoda.

“We were a farming family in Poland and I wanted to continue the tradition,” Domanski said.

They later moved to live in Tarurua St and then to Wairarapa Village.

“We just love Wairarapa. We love Masterton. It is a lovely size,” Domanski said.

He said he was very proud of his three children and they had been very good to him during a recent illness.

In his book he pays tribute to Poland by quoting an old song that says all of Poland is beautiful, with many regions and different peoples.

He said when he went to his brother Leon’s 93rd birthday party in Wellington recently there were three children there from the Pahiatua camp and the rest were young people.

He said he had to say how happy he was to see the new generations coming through and felt he and his siblings had “done our work”.

His family had emphasised the importance of education and it was pleasing to see his children and their children doing so well.


  1. Thankyou Pam Graham for your tear jerking story of
    Mr Domaski ——Hope he enjoys the Presidents visit
    Jennifer Smith Otago

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