Danuta Urbikas’s mother Janina and sister Mira in India (left); Mira in her Navy Scout uniform in India (right)

Danuta Urbikas’s mother Janina and sister Mira in India (left); Mira in her Navy Scout uniform in India (right)

Scouting and church, institutions that were integral to Polish life, were built in the “Little Poland” that sprung up in India, writes Anuradha Bhattacharjee, an academic and researcher in her book, The Second Homeland: Polish Refugees in India

It is estimated that, nearly 5,000 Polish refugees from Soviet camps lived in India between 1942 and 1948, although researchers have not been able to establish the exact numbers. Multiple transit camps were set up in different locations in India for refugees who were crossing over from Iran to other places. The Maharaja’s gesture was followed by a second and larger settlement for older Polish refugees, organized in 1943. The latter camp was set up in Valivade, in what was then the princely state of Kolhapur and what is today the state of Maharashtra.

The Maharaja already had an abiding interest in Poland, an outgrowth of his father’s friendship with the Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski, whom he remembered meeting in Geneva https://hookupdate.net/it/heatedaffairs-review/ as a child. In an interview to the weekly magazine Poland, Jam Saheb explained why he had offered to provide shelter: “I am trying to do whatever I can to save the children; as they must regain their health and strength after these dreadful trials, so that in the future they will be able to cope with the tasks that await them in a liberated Poland.”

Program sheet of a function by children in Balachadi. The Second Homeland: Polish Refugees in India by Anuradha Bhattacharjee, SAGE India

According to Wieslaw Stypula, who was one of the child refugees, many of the children were orphans. Others only had one parent. Some parents had gone missing, while others had joined the Polish army, which was being assembled in the Soviet Union. “Please tell the children that they are no longer orphans because I am their father,” Stypula quotes the Maharaja telling one of the organizers of the camp.

Far from the ravages of the war, life in Balachadi, as described by Stypula and other survivors, was warm and cheerful. Every effort was made to create a home away from home. The children were provided with housing and education. A school and a hospital were built. They were free to use Jam Saheb’s gardens, squash courts, and pool. The preservation of Polish culture and tradition was greatly prioritized and a Polish flag was raised at the site. (The refugees referred to the settlement camps in India as a “Little Poland,” a term that caught on with those who have documented the story.)

The settlement at Balachadi was exclusively for children

Bhattacharjee says that what the Maharaja did was an example of the ancient and popular Sanskrit philosophy of vasudhaiva kutumbakam (“the world is one family”). “India was not the richest country, nor was it a neighboring country,” Bhattacharjee says, “and yet a quirk of events led to seemingly unrelated people getting together and finding a humanitarian solution.”

Princess Hershad Kumari and Prince Shatrusalyasinhji, the biological children of Jam Saheb, were the same age as the children at the camp. Though they were not available to comment for this story, they have shared their memories, in a documentary and elsewhere, of growing up alongside the Polish children, of playing with them, celebrating Indian festivals and Christmas, and gifting them Indian costumes.

Eighty-two-year-old Sukhdevsinhji Jadeja, Jam Saheb’s nephew who also grew up in Jamnagar, remembers his time at his uncle’s property well. “My uncle did not just accommodate [the refugees], he adopted them,” Jadeja says. “I remember having football matches with the boys from Balachadi. As we grew up, the story was passed down in our family as a good deed that we all took great pride in.”

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