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New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children

Setting up a life

page 208

Setting up a life

We arrived in New Zealand without parents. Our father and our brother Zdzisław Tkacz, who were in the army, joined us here after World War II. Our friends in the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua were envious of those who had parents.

But life wasn't easy when we were setting up house together. Daunted by the responsibility of looking after three daughters, my father remarried to try and give us some family life. To help with finances, we took on boarders. When our stepmother had a stroke after just a few years, the responsibility for looking after the house and boarders fell on myself and my sisters Helena and Regina. My brother Zdzisław, who helped look after us when we were in Russia after our dad left to join the army, now helped with the various expenses and helped us to survive here.

We bought a house in Hanson Street, Newtown, Wellington, which became a focal point of our extended family life where friends from the camp would regularly meet for shared meals and social evenings. The neighbourhood children joined our children to play in the backyard and have remained friends ever since.

We all married Poles from the camp. My sister Helena married Tadeusz Knap, Regina married Tadeusz Reder and I married Stanisław. Stanisław was one of seven children who were separated by the war. He never met his brothers again and all have since died. He had no one to look after him when he left school at 15 but nevertheless became a successful builder. Our five children have also been successful and intermarried with New Zealanders. Their children proudly talk of their Polish heritage.