The article on the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar’s sheltering of Polish WW-II refugee children was wonderfully done (Little Warsaw of Kathiawar, Dec 20). The Polish initiative to honour Digvijaysinhji is well-known now and there is an online petition to the president of Poland to award him a posthumous state honour.
K. Rzysiwanek, Warsaw
Loved the article. I hope someone also highlights the life and work of Maurice Frydman, or Swami Bharatananda—humanist, Gandhian and freedom fighter, a true son of both Poland and India. He deserves a mention in Outlook’s pages too.
Gajanan Netravali, Mumbai
Heartwarming piece. I’m happy to see all the initiatives in Poland aiming at commemorating this great ruler. May his memory live for ever.
Margo, Melbourne, US
As one of the Balachadi boys, I read with interest your story about the Polish refugee children who were given sanctuary during wwii by the great humanitarian, the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar (Little Warsaw of Kathiawar, Dec 20). In September 1939, the USSR invaded Poland from the east, and soon after started mass deportations of Polish citizens to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Thousands died from starvation or disease.
When, in 1942, the Soviet government agreed to release the deportees, many of them managed to make their way to neighbouring Persia (Iran). The first transport of Polish orphans departed from an orphanage in Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan. The evacuation was organised by the Polish government in London. After reaching Mashhad, the children were transported via Zahedan and Nok Kundi to Quetta.
From there they proceeded by train to Jamnagar, where they were warmly greeted by the Jam Saheb. Despite other reports, the children did not arrive by ship; the Polish children in Balachadi arrived by land. This is a fact established through research by Anuradha Bhattacharjee in her PhD thesis ‘History of Polish Refugees in India, 1942-48’, and corroborated by Wieslaw Stypula, himself a Balachadi boy, in his book Guests of the Polish Maharaja.
I’d also mention the recently published Heniek by Anna Bonshek, about her father, who was a Balachadi boy.
Tadeusz Dobrostanski, Melbourne
As the author of Heniek: A Polish Boy’s Coming of Age in India During World War II, I read with interest the story of the Polish refugee children. While I appreciate the statement that there are several versions of the story, the seminal work on the issue is Poles in India 1942-48 by the Association of Poles in India. That text accurately records the heart-wrenching ordeal of thousands of Polish children (mostly orphans) who escaped Soviet penal camps to find refuge in India. Historians Anuradha Bhattacharjee and Ken Robbins have made further valuable contributions.
Since much factual information does not appear in the Outlook article, I fear the reader might come away with the idea that the historical details are somewhat cloudy. I would like to emphasise that nothing can be further from the truth—those who lived to tell the tale have told it clearly and unanimously. Such individuals as Tadeusz Dobrostanski, Jan Siedlecki, Franciszek Herzog and others are living, breathing repositories of this piece of Polish-Indian history.
Launched at the Byron Bay Writers Festival in August 2010, Heniek was presented to the Polish PM, Donald Tusk, by Indian ambassador to Poland Deepak Vohra, and to Pratibha Patil earlier this year. It is inspiring that in dire circumstances individuals from a host culture were motivated to support those in need, those who came from a very different culture. And I can attest to the fact that India had a profound impact on my father’s life, not just due to his time in Balachadi, but also due to his experiences later in life.
Anna Bonshek, Brisbane
Apropos Little Warsaw of Kathiawar (Dec 20, 2010), we are pleased to announce that the President of the Republic of Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski, did posthumously award Maharaja Digvijaysinhji the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.
We are pleased to announce that the President of the Republic of Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski, did posthomously award the maharaja with a state honour (Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland). Full information, albeit in Polish, here:
As a graduate of the Warsaw-based high school mentioned in the article that bears Jam Saheb's name, I am glad that the Maharaja's tremendous generosity is finally getting the recognition it duly deserves.
Unfortunately, the picture included in the article does not do justice to the school's beautiful architecture, which can be seen here:
As an author on this topic (HENIEK: A Polish Boy's Coming of Age in India During World War II), and on Indian theory (The Big Fish (Rodopi), Mirror of Consciousness (Motilal Banarsidass)), I read with some interest Sugata Srinivasaraju's article about the Polish children who were cared for in India during the Second World War. While I appreciate that Srinivasaraju states up front that there are several versions of the story, readers can rest assured that the seminal work Poles in India 1942-48 (published both in Polish and English) is that single text, which records accurately the entire details of the heart-wrenching ordeal of thousands of Polish children (mostly orphans) who escaped Soviet penal camps in Siberia to find refuge in India. Historians Anuradha Bhattacharjee (History of Polish Refugees in India 1942-48) and Ken Robbins have published further contextualisations of events, which are valuable contributions.
Most compelling is to hear and read actual accounts by individual survivors. Many are available, including Wieslaw Stypula's Guests of the Polish Maharaja and the recently published HENIEK: A Polish Boy's Coming of Age in India During World War II—the latter being the documentation of my own father's (Henry Bonshek) story as one of these Polish children. Launched at the Byron Bay Writers Festival, Australia in August, HENIEK was presented to the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk by Ambassador Deepak Vohra, and to Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil earlier this year. In his artlcle War and Peace (Gold Coast Bulletin Paradise Magazine), writer Michael Jacobson (The Windmill Hill) summarizes how Heniek was "snatched from his home town of Wolkowysk and transported to the hell of a Soviet gulag, followed by a perilous escape to Uzbekistan" before finding respite in India. HENIEK is an epic story—albeit the story of one boy's journey to freedom (including time at the Balachadi facility).
Clearly, it is inspiring to know that, in dire circumstances, individuals from a host culture were motivated to provide support to those in need, those who came from a very different background. And I can attest to the fact that India had a profound impact on my father's life—not just due to his time in Balachadi, but also due to his experience in Bandra (Mumbai), in Valivade (near Kolhapur in Maharashtra), and, most of all, in Mt Abu, Rajasthan.
Coming back to Srinivasaraju's article, there is a great deal of important factual information that does not appear here, and I fear the reader might come away with the idea that the historical details are somewhat cloudy, especially surrounding events during this period. I would like to emphasise that nothing could be further from the truth. The Poles who lived through the terrible events of the time have a very clear understanding of their experience and have documented it well. Those who remain to tell the tale—including individuals such as Tadeusz Dobrostanski, Jan Siedlecki, Franciszek Herzog (The Herzog Family Chronicle, 1866-2000), Czesia Moniak, Danuta Pniewska, Andrzej Chendynski and many, many others—are living, breathing repositories of this piece of Polish-Indian history. All recount how they were transported overland (rather than by ship).
Having lived through those turbulent times, my late father, and his peers, developed a keen knowledge of the impact of historical and social factors on individual life. Their stories are historical records, not just of Soviet oppression, of hardship, of despair, but also of the will to live, of heroism, of the force of life. And while they tell of the enduring Polish spirit, they reveal the ingenuity of the Polish Government-in-Exile, the life-saving initiative of Polish wartime leader General Anders (that effectively facilitated the release of Poles from Siberia by Stalin, even for a limited period), and the generosity of Indian nationals (the Maharaja, along with other wealthy industrialists and caring individuals of various faiths)—all during this most devastating period in world history.
For anyone who is genuinely curious about this unique and incredible chapter in Polish-Indian relations, I would recommend that they go more deeply into this story, to witness true endurance, the force of survival, unparalleled compassion and the triumph of humanity in times of war.
As one of the Balachadi boys, I read with interest your story about the Polish orphaned children of Balachadi which were given sanctuary during the Second World War, by the great humanitarian Maharaja Jam Saheb.
In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland and soon after the Soviet occupiers commenced mass deportations of Polish citizens to Siberia and the Kazakhstan. Thousands of adults and children died due to illness and hunger. When in 1942, the Soviet Government agreed to release the Polish deportees a large number of people managed to escape to neighbouring Persia (Iran) and the first transport of Polish orphans departed from an orphanage in Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan.
The evacuation was organised by the Polish Government in London. After reaching Mashhad the children were transported via Zahedan and Nok Kundi to Quetta. From there they proceeded by train to Jamnagar. On arrival they were warmly greeted by the great benefactor Maharaja Jam Saheb. Despite what was previously reported the children did not arrive by wandering ships. These Polish children in Balachadi arrived by land. A fact researched and documented by Dr Anuradha Bhattacharjee in her PhD thesis, “History of Polish Refugees in India 1942-48”. by USA historian, Dr Keneth Robbins and by Mr Wieslaw Stypula himself a Balachadi boy in his book “Guests of the Polish Maharaja” This is further documented in the book “ Poles in India 1942- 1948.” by the Association of Poles in India and in another recently published book “Heniek” by Anna Bonshek about her father who was also Balachadi boy.
Thank you so much for this wonderful article! Heartwarming, beautiful and so thoroughly researched. I'm happy to see all the initiatives in Poland aiming at commemorating this great Maharajah. May His memory live for ever.
I hope someone highlights the exploits of Shri. Maurice Frydman who did a lot for the Polish children. He was a true son of both Poland and India and he deserves a mention in the pages of History.
Wonderfully researched article, many thanks.
I would only add few links to read about the Polish initiative to honour the maharajah:
And the initiative itself. This ois ur Facebook page:
Ant the online petition to the President of Poland to give the state honour posthomously to the maharajah (1734 people signed so far):
At last a heart warming story amongst all the tales of doom and gloom and scams.
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