Polish children of Pahiatua with the president on Wellington’s waterfront. PHOTO/PETER DOMANSKI
The Polish children of Pahiatua, including 88-year-old Witold [Vic] Domanski from Masterton, have met the president of the country they were forced to leave as children.
There were many special moments during the visit of Andrzej Duda and first lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda on Wednesday and Thursday.
The president left with a gift of a Polish flag found in the ruins of the monastery on Monte Cassino where Polish and Kiwi troops fought.
Domanski, who was just nine years old when Soviet soldiers appeared in the eastern province of Poland where his family lived, was transported to a labour camp in northern Russia, then had another harrowing journey south to the Middle East before travelling on a ship during wartime to New Zealand.
He said the president met many of the Polish children of Pahiatua at the memorial to them on the Wellington waterfront where flowers were laid. There were also presentations and speeches at Foxglove Restaurant.
“A selected number of us ex-kids from the camp were taken to the dining room where we joined the Polish president and trade delegation members,” Domanski said.
“They’re very tall people. They’ve overgrown us. We are shorties.
“That’s the new generation worldwide.”
Domanski said the president gave a lovely speech, and he was still taking in the events of a wonderful day.
It was a first visit by a Polish president to New Zealand, which is home to some 6000 Poles and people of Polish descent.
They include the 733 children and 105 caregivers who arrived in Wellington on November 1, 1944 and went to a camp in Pahiatua.
During the visit, a twin-town partnership agreement between Pahiatua and Kazimierz Dolny in Poland was officially signed in Auckland.
Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said Wellington had a rich history associated with Poland.
“It was wonderful to have President Duda here for the unveiling of the Polish Children-Polskie Dzieci Square plaque.
“In 1944, New Zealand opened its doors to the Polish refugees and 74 years later we can look back on that, while in tragic circumstances, as the beginning of a warm friendship,” Lester said.
Zdzistaw Lepionka, one of the Polish children, said: “New Zealand became our permanent home, but we never forgot the country of our birth, our culture, our proud history.”
He said the visit was very significant for both New Zealand and the Polish people.