Wisia Sobierajska Watkins

On 22 September 2015 the world lost one of its best. Wisia Sobierajska Watkins, known also as Vicky, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother—babcia—had warned her family that her “jalopy” was giving up. She died peacefully in her sleep in the home she shared with her youngest son.

Meeting Pani Wisia—her eldest son, Roger, introduced us in 2012—cemented my commitment to this project. She inspired me. She had an ability to see the positive, no matter how dire a situation. During the series of video and audio interviews we did in 2013 and 2014, no matter how bad the plight, she would end the story with a chuckle or smile. I had the feeling it was to make me feel at ease, but laughter always peppered her stories. She gracefully dismissed my inept technical fingers in the beginning and allowed me to learn within her warm presence.

I was immediately drawn to her. She had that special quality of a “gościnna gospodynia,” for which there is no adequate English translation but that—apart from a flair for cooking, baking, entertaining and keeping a perfect home—describes a welcoming charm and grace. She reminded me of my babcia. Even when official reasons ended, I continued, selfishly, to visit her when I made a trip to Wellington.

Pani Wisia’s stories show an inner core of strength and courage. These are the first three. Although she shared history with others on this page who were part of the estimated 1,700,000 Poles forcibly removed from their homes in eastern Poland by the Soviets in 1940 and 1941, she immigrated independently to New Zealand—with her husband and four children—in 1968.

I feel privileged to have spent time with Pani Wisia at her home in Pauatahahui and to have written about her journey from Poland to New Zealand, via Siberia, Persia, Kenya, England, Kenya again, and South Africa.

Pani Wisia was a special woman. I loved and admired her. Rest in Peace my friend.

—Barbara Scrivens