Category: Uncategorized

Remembering Them



A few minutes before 7am on 28 April 1942, the deck watch on the Polish destroyer ORP Błyskawica saw six low-flying fighter aircraft approach from the south.

Their clear markings showed they were Luftwaffe. Their attack lasted less than a minute. They were gone before any alert was sounded on shore, but their raid foreshadowed a far more serious intent to damage and destroy the shipyards, aircraft factory, and the residential towns at Cowes and East Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

Eighty years ago today, the six planes flew in a “single line ahead” formation. The two on either side dropped their bombs on the shipyards and aircraft factory and they all veered away. The middle pair that flew over the Medina river, returned to drop bombs on either side of the ORP Błyskawica, docked in Cowes for repairs. The ship retaliated, and one of that pair flew away trailing black smoke after an “exceptionally violent turn.”

The attack left the ship without a mast, with her torpedo control destroyed, her RDF (Range and Detection Finding) capabilities “seriously damaged” and her superstructure battered. The damage suggested the planes were ME 109s, the light Messerschmitts that used bombs of “very small size with slight delayed action.”   

The commander of the ORP Błyskawica, Wojciech Francki, recognised the Luftwaffe mission as German reconnaissance and, against British Admiralty protocols of the time, re-armed his ship. That deed resulted in the ORP Błyskawica being able to use all except its still-not-repaired heavy guns to repel the 160 German bombers that arrived during the night of 4–5 May. Commander Francki’s order to light and maintain “smoke candles” on shore sheltered the town from illumination by flares and fires. Instead of the enemy planes being able to accurately bomb a well-lit target from around 50 metres, the barrage from the ship forced them higher, which affected their ability to aim.  

Every year Cowes and East Cowes commemorates the bravery and courage of the ORP Błyskawica commander and his crew, and the residents who staffed the towns’ ARP (Air Raid Precautions) headquarters and units. Although the towns lost 70 people, its residents know that without the Polish navy ship, the toll would have been far worse.

A duffel-coated commander probably on the bridge of his ship, smiling at the camera. Seas behind him are rough and grey.
Commander Wojciech Francki

_______________

During the Anzac Day commemorations this year, I wondered whether Commander Francki, who lived in Auckland for nearly two decades after WW2, ever attended a post-war parade. The Polish military was snubbed at the massive, allied victory celebrations in London on 8 June 1946, and I doubt that many, if any, of the Polish veterans in New Zealand would have had the desire to be reminded that their years fighting “For Our Freedom and Yours” had been in vain.

In any case, by the 1950s, soon after most of the Polish veterans arrived in New Zealand, the day had lost its popularity—thanks to some local authorities extending the legal prohibition on commerce that day to include a ban on any entertainment or sport.

Nowadays, the increasing respect that we have for our fallen and our veterans is reflected in the number of services and those attending, including children who are encouraged to find out about their forbears’ contribution to war and peace efforts.

Polish names appear on every memorial that I have seen in districts where the early Polish settlers lived. Several thousand young Polish men fought with the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces in WWI at the same time as the New Zealand government put Poles who arrived here in the 1870s and 1880s, on its 1917 register of Enemy Aliens. Restrictions under that act decreed that they had to report weekly to their nearest police station, and had to carry a police permit if they wanted to travel farther than 20 miles.

While Poland fought for the allies in WW2, its own Armed Forced Day is on 13 August, to commemorate its 1920 victory over Soviet forces during the battle in Warsaw known as the Miracle on the Vistula.

This year I again attended a small ceremony to honour the almost 22,000 Polish prisoners-of-war executed by the NKVD, Stalin’s Secret Police, in April and May 1940, and buried in mass graves in the Katyń forest in western Russia. The Auckland function is organised by the Honorary Consul for Poland in Auckland, Bogusław Nowak, and takes place at the Cathedral of St Patrick and St Joseph, which holds a plaque dedicated to the Katyń victims. It was arranged by members of the Auckland Polish Association in 1990, at a time when the total dead still numbered 14,500.

Two Polish soldiers saluting the Katyn plaque in the cathedral. They are dressed in smart khaki uniform and blue berets.
Polish officers Colonel Paweł Chabielski and Lieutenant Colonel Marcin Matczak, visited the Auckland Catholic Cathedral in April 2018, and paid their respects to the Polish officers killed in western Russia and buried at Katyń.

—Barbara Scrivens

Find a fuller story of Commander Wojciech Francki on: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/commander-wojciech-francki/

Although several individual family stories on our Early Settlers page include sons who fought in WWI, the story of the first eight Polish families in Taranaki also covers the Poles’ battle regarding the 1917 Enemy Alien register: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/under-the-mountain/

Find a fuller story on the Katyń massacres at: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/katyn-the-unspeakable-crime/

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Lost and Found



The 12 sheets of heavy A3 paper that Ray Watembach gave me the last time I was in his kitchen nearly three years ago still do not file neatly away, but this week I made peace with their contents.

They are copies of his notes, most written on the fronts and backs of buff-coloured envelopes that carried the Polish American journal Ray subscribed to. He started researching his own Polish roots decades before digitisation made trawling through records so much easier, but these were not his family notes. Rather, they were hunting for connections to Catharina Grabowska, eight years old in 1876.

Those 12 sheets of paper covered births, marriages, and deaths from 1818 to 1876 in Kokoszkowy, a village in then Prussian-partitioned north-western Poland.

Catharina Grabowska was listed on the ship Fritz Reuter as the daughter of a Jacob Rzonska, but she was not his daughter, neither his wife’s. Catharina’s father died when she was two months old, and her mother four years later.

Catharina Grabowska may have remained hidden, had her real name not appeared on her 1883 marriage certificate. Jacob Brzoska (the same Rzonska as above) was one of the witnesses. I wonder whether the “Katie Grabowsky” on that certificate had known that she had been fostered by the Brzoska family, or whether it came as a shock when her foster-father decided that he needed to provide as much correct information as possible on an official document. There were other people from Kokoszkowy in New Zealand who knew her family.  

Jacob Brzoska, his wife, Marianna, and several children moved to the USA in 1901, including two boys younger than Katie who also travelled on the Fritz Reuter. As the president of the Polish Genealogical Society in New Zealand, Ray met, helped and guided many other family genealogists, including a Brzoska family descendant who visited New Zealand in the early 1990s. After she could find no trace of Catharina, that genealogist decided that she had died aged 11 or 12. It is not clear why those ages, but Catharina does not appear in the genealogist’s subsequent family story.

Inaccuracies in the Kokoszkowy church books must happen—no set of record keeping can ever be infallible—but are more to do with spelling variations of a name, or the germanising of a name, say, a Polish Wojciech becoming its German equivalent, Adalbert. The Kokoszkowy record keepers had generally good handwriting when compared to some of the scrawlers in other parishes, so it is possible to follow a family’s genealogy.

Kokoszkowy’s Gothic stone church of St Barbara, erected in the mid-1500s, held most of the ceremonies and records of its Catholic residents’ births, marriages, and deaths. The priests knew their parishioners, their parents, their children, their friends, and their extended families. They were unlikely to make a mistake about who was born to whom and who married whom. The death records are so precise that they give a cause of death, plus often the exact age of the person who died: Catharina Grabowska’s mother, Barbara Dytmer, died as the wife of Vincent Arim, aged 36 years two months and 24 days.

In comparison, New Zealand church records are riddled with inaccuracies. One can to some extent forgive a record keeper for not knowing a family that is new to an area, but when a bride’s father is recorded as her mother as well as her father—as happened to another Catharina who married in Carterton, Catharina Gronkowska—one wonders whether some of the colonial record takers were merely filling the forms as quickly as possible.

The same type of thing happened in other parts of the colony. In Christchurch, Michael and Ewa Piekarski had 12 children in Christchurch between 1877 and 1894. Their baptismal records from the Catholic diocese show only two surnames spelt correctly, and some so wildly silly, they border on offensive.  

One of Catharina Grabowska’s granddaughters asked Ray to investigate her mother’s roots, but would not believe that the Carterton marriage certificate was wrong. Even though Ray found the Polish record of Joseph Grabowski, aged 25, marrying Barbara Dytmer, aged 23, on 25 October 1857 at St Barbara’s, the descendant continued to believe that her great-grandmother was the Bella Oudeman named on Katie Grabowsky’s marriage certificate.

Ray accepted the descendant’s choice to believe what she wanted to, but the interaction bothered him enough to bring it up as we chatted that day about researching, and how easy it is to jump to a conclusion and remain in that hole. Two of Ray’s great-grandmothers are named Catharina, and he named his daughter Katarina after them, so he remembered the little lost girl, who happened to come from the same village as many of his extended family.

His records made researching Catharina Grabowska so much easier for me. It has been a pleasure to let him know that his researcher’s instincts were correct, that his question marks and various highlighted names did lead to a definitive answer for a little girl who became known as Catherine Salter, who in 1893 enrolled in New Zealand’s historical world-first election where women won the right to vote, who had seven children, and who is buried next to her husband in Taumarunui.   

—Barbara Scrivens

_______________

Find a fuller story of Catherine Grabowska Salter, and copies of various birth and marriage records at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/catharina-grabowska-salter/

A database of early Polish settlers in New Zealand is available at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/search-settlers/. We allow wild-card spellings.

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Chipping Away



There is a new name on the list of Poles in Jackson’s Bay: Marianna Bielawska, who arrived there as a single woman in 1875, along with 13 Polish families.

Although there seems to be no link between her and the other Polish families, I have placed her at the end of those who arrived in August 1875 because she happened to be listed near two of them on the Lammershagen, which brought them to New Zealand.

The Jackson’s Bay record takers noted 15-year-old Joe Maskrunski, but 25-year-old Marianna’s name is not on any list that emanated from the West Coast Special Settlement. She is linked to the place only through her marriage certificate.

She immigrated to New Zealand under her own name—and may have been five years older—and the only reason that I know she was at there at all was through her marriage to Irish widower and father of two, Robert Nelson, at Jackson’s Bay on 28 October 1876. Although the registrar who officiated the event spelt her first name “Emilge,” he got her surname correct.

My Polish friend in Canada calls them gems, those pieces of integral information that appear unexpectedly and add depth to our ancestors’ lives. Single Polish women are an especially thin gruel, so when our Polish ambassador to New Zealand, Grzegorz Kowal, asked me whether there was anything else that could replace a travel grant that Covid curtailed last year, I immediately suggested BDM certificates. 

Those two dozen certificates have allowed me to look deeper into mainly single women who arrived here in the 1870s, and babies and young children who died soon after arriving, or who were born soon after. Single women and daughters within families often seemed to vanish after marriage. Whom did they marry? Did the young children disappear from records because they died? What caused their deaths?

My questions started when I expanded our previous linear database of early Polish settlers in 2020 into something more useable for researchers. The deeper dig led to many more questions than answers, questions not helped by sometimes wild spelling variations of names registered within the historical birth, death, and marriage records at the Department of Te Tari Taiwhenua/ Internal Affairs (BDM). Similar forenames among siblings, cousins, husbands, and wives further complicated matters.  

I have appreciated the gems. For instance, on Marianna’s marriage certificate, one of the witnesses was “Carl Bielawski, settler, Jackson’s Bay.” He and his family arrived in New Zealand off the Terpsichore in 1876. My earlier information on him pointed to his being related to the Bielecki family and, even though he was naturalised in Inglewood as Carl Bielawski, I kept his family under the Bielecki name. No longer.

Despite the Bielawski-Nelson marriage certificate having no provision for parents’ names—yet needed the registrar’s three times—it provided the key to Marianna’s connection to Carl, or Karol in Polish: Dunedin researcher Paul Klemick had already found Karol Bielawski’s parents recorded as Szymon Bielawski and Anna Laellman. Roy Szyhowski, a Bielecki relative from St Louis, USA, who contacted me shortly after we updated the website, sent me a link last week to a Polish website where he had entered the name Bielawska. Last night I looked on that site for a Szymon Bielawski, and found that a person of the same name, and married to an Anna Celman/ Celmann/ Cymerman/ Zelman, between 1840 and 1850 had fathered a Karol, Marianna, Jan, and Hubert in the same town, Józefkowo.

That’s enough for me right now to accept that our Marianna and Carl were siblings.  

_______________

Jackson’s Bay saw several births among the Poles, two for the Górowski family. Franz Jorofski was born on 2 January 1877, and his brother Joseph, on 22 February 1878, both at the family home at the Arawata river. Franz survived, moved with his family to Hokitika, married, died aged 81, and is buried with his wife at the Hokitika cemetery as Frank Groufsky, the name the family adopted in New Zealand.

Joseph Górowski’s death certificate shows he died on 5 April 1878, aged six weeks. His cause of illness was “unknown,” he had been “ill from birth,” and there was no medical attendant for him. Polish settler John Stobbo was one of three witnesses to Joseph’s burial at the Arawata cemetery.

The details on babies’ death certificates underline the harsh living conditions the early Polish settlers endured. Barely two months after the Duszyński family walked to Inglewood from New Plymouth, Barbara, née Drozdowska, gave birth to Maria Augusta, who died 11 days later. Again, there was no “certified” medical attendant, and the Inglewood postmaster of the time who signed the certificate put “gradual decline” as the reason for her death.

That certificate showed that, although there was again no religious minister, three other Taranaki settlers besides Joseph Duszyński witnessed the baby girl’s burial at the Inglewood cemetery: Matthew Dodunski, Anton Potroz and August Neustrowski.

One can only order a certificate from the BDM if one can match a surname on its database. I could not find Anna Agnieszka née Jabłońska Bucholc, who apparently died in childbirth in Waikaka in on 5 October 1882. The baby was named Martha Barbara. Anna’s husband, John, is buried at the Gore cemetery with his wife Anna—but not Anna née Jabłońska. He married an Anna Dovaloska in Gore in 1883.  

And this is where I bless our regional heritage centres and their researchers’ generosity: I found a reference to the death of an Anne Bouchols at the Hokonui Heritage Centre in Gore and wrote to them. Its Heritage Research Officer Bruce Cavanagh replied, and steered me towards a variation of the name I had not tried with BDM: Bouchles. I found Anna, but no baby dying around the same time. Bruce tracked down Barbara, born to John Bouchles and Anna Yablouske in Waikaka on 5 October 1882; Martha Bucholz’s marriage to John Wyatt at her father’s home in Otakerama in 1903; John Wyatt’s death in 1909; Barbara Wyatt’s marriage to Albert Green in 1913; her death on 18 February 1944; and a recent plaque on Barbara’s grave: that of her son, Alan Francis Green.

How could he be so sure? Because he found Alan’s marriage certificate that recorded his mother’s maiden name. Bruce became Anna Agnieszka’s and her daughter Martha Barbara’s gem.  

Otorohanga is another regional council that is helpful. I would never have been able to confirm that the Margaret Roberts buried at the Otorohanga cemetery in 1942 was the Waleria Jokobowska who arrived here aged 13 months in 1876 if they had not taken the trouble to fill out her place of birth: Poland.   

I expect to continue to add and amend the early settlers’ database on this site. If anyone has a query, or can help, they can contact us through the Home page. Only information that I have been able to verify through several sources gets onto the database, so every bit helps.

—Barbara Scrivens

_______________

The database is available at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/search-settlers/. We allow wild-card spellings.

The list of Polish settlers at Jackson’s Bay between 1875 and 1879 is available at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/list-of-poles-in-jacksons-bay/.

More on the first few years and the first families who arrived in Taranaki in 1876 at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/under-the-mountain/.

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Henryka Aulich Blackler, 1930–2022



Pani Henia learnt about life by living it.

A smiling 13-year-old in a beret, dress and jacket looking towards hands outstretched to help her off the back of a truck.
Henryka Aulich, on 1 November 1944, as she stepped off one of the military lorries that drove 733 Polish children and their 105 caregivers to the Pahiatua Children’s Camp.

She learnt the sound and enormity of German bombers in 1939, aged eight. She and other children walked home from school one day as strange, huge machines flew overhead, on their way to bomb Łomża. She lived on a hill outside the city, and watched what she came to know as aeroplanes drop bomb after bomb, day after day, and night after night, until the city centre was a smouldering ruin.

Pani Henia was named after her carpenter father, who had been working on the Łomża cathedral. He walked into the city to check on his work once the bombing stopped, and was captured by German troops.

Within two weeks the Germans melted away and their allies, the Russians, took over. For nearly two years her mother quietly raised her eight children alone. They weren’t quiet enough, and Russian soldiers captured the rest of the family in June 1941, a date that coincided with Hitler’s re-invasion of Russian-occupied Poland, then Russia itself.

Pani Henia’s mum and her younger seven children were on one of the last cattle trains that Stalin used to transport Poles to the USSR to work as forced labour. They ended up in Kazakhstan, a place with little shelter, work, or food. Ultimately, her mother saved her middle five children by putting them on a train destined for the USSR border.

I know that Pani Henia did not forget any of that, because they were the first stories that tumbled out when I interviewed her.

Her early life was not easy, and one would have thought that when she arrived here in 1944 with three of her younger brothers, she would have been able to build on that sibling bond. But in 1948, Pahiatua Children’s Camp authorities forced her brothers to return to Poland to their widowed mother—destitute in post-war communist-controlled Poland—and left 17-year-old Henia alone in New Zealand.

When Pani Henia went to Poland to see her dying mother in 1986, her brothers showed her the basement room allocated to the family of six by the regime in Poland. But in 1948 in New Zealand, her brother Anton still had nightmares about his time in Kazakhstan, and kept running away from the Pahiatua camp to look for “shelter.” And, after spending a school holiday at the Pahiatua camp, her brother Peter let it slip that he did not want to become a priest after all.

During the hours of our conversations, which led to the story linked to below, never once did Pani Henia hint of “poor me.” Instead, she had a strength, a light within her that made her one of the most positive and kindest people I have ever met. The last time I saw her, she was arranging a dinner for a neighbour, worrying about others.

Henryka Aulich Blackler died on 2 January 2022.

Pani Henia with a microphone in her hand, singing.

I didn’t know her family in New Zealand, but I know how much she meant to the Polish community in Christchurch. She loved to sing—here in 2019 at the 75th anniversary of arriving in New Zealand with 732 other Polish children and their caregivers.

Pani Henia, you had the voice of an angel, and are one. You managed to find peace here on earth. I cannot imagine the peace ahead of you among the angels in heaven.

Pani Henio, byłaś taką wyjątkową osobą. To był dla mnie takie zaszczyt, że mogłam Cię spotkać i lepiej poznać.

Spoczywaj w pokoju.

—Basia Scrivens

_______________

The top photograph is a still from the Weekly Review newsreel No. 169 https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/nz-soldiers-and-polish-children-weekly-review-no-169-1944. Anna Gruczyńska took the 2019 photograph.

Henia Aulich Blackler’s story is available at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/henryka-aulich-blackler/

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Family, Friendships, and Funerals



I’m closing the door gently on 2021. No slamming, or sighs of relief. I don’t want to tempt any gremlins on the other side.

For those of us who complain that the years pass by quicker than ever, the four months’ lockdown in Auckland from August this year had Christmas barrel towards us with extra speed. We assessed life differently, and came to a heightened appreciation of family and friends.

I would have let 2021 slip away quietly, not made this post on the last day of the year, had it not been for wanting to formally farewell three dear people.

This time last year Joanna née Adamek Kalinowska and Stefania née Pracz Boyle were both becoming more frail. Pani Joanna died on 17 January this year, and Pani Stefa two weeks later. I met them both in 2018, and both were willing to share their stories for this website. They did not know each other, but they were both born in Poland, and in 1940—five months after the Russian invasion of eastern Poland—were both rounded up with their families by armed Soviet soldiers—Pani Joanna aged 11 and Pani Stefa nine—and taken on cattle trains to Soviet forced-labour facilities in northern Russia.

After the Polish army helped Poles escape the USSR in 1942, Pani Joanna ended up with nearly 20,000 other Poles in one of the Polish refugee camps scattered along eastern and southern Africa. England accepted them as refugees in 1948. Twenty-five years later, she and her husband, Polish army veteran Tadeusz, arrived in Auckland with their four children.

Head and shoulders of a smiling 90-year-old,, hair tied in a bun, but escaping, and in a bit of a brown crumpled track-suit top. Still a handsome woman.

Covid put an end to easy access to Pani Joanna, who lived in a retirement home, but I made a few notes the last time we had a long phone conversation, when she again reflected on her life:

“For the first few years, when we were taken to Russia, I cried continuously. I wanted to go back to Poland. When I grew up, I realised there was no point in crying. You have to accept what you are facing and make the best of it.

“I lost my patriotic feeling towards Poland, but you can’t take your nationality out of your soul. Your country is like a mother. You may not always like her, and she might not always like you, but when you are born in a certain country, you will have patriotic feelings towards her.

“These days, as long as I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, something to eat, what else can I demand? You have to take in life what comes to you because it is not often that you can make your own decisions.”

_______________

Another smiling old lady, this time sitting and leaning her elbow on a table. Royal blue top, same coloured glasses and still blue eyes. Shortish white hair.

Pani Stefa, with her sister Eugenia, was among the 733 Polish children whom the New Zealand government invited, with their caregivers, to wait out the war in peaceful security. They arrived in Wellington in November 1944 and, after it became clear that allied Poland had lost her land to the Soviet regime, Prime Minister Peter Fraser extended that invitation.

The sisters had become separated from their parents and older stepsisters in Kazakhstan in 1942, after Stalin released the Poles from his forced-labour facilities. The Pracz family had travelled south to find the Polish army, but circumstances became so dire without food, water, or shelter that their mother put them into an orphanage. Years later they found out that their parents had died within days of each other in Kazakhstan, but that their stepsisters survived, and lived in Poland.

Pani Stefa married Graham Boyle in Auckland in 1953, and had three children. At her funeral, we heard about her feisty character, her infectious sense of humour and the stubbornness that helped her overcome her experiences in the USSR in WW2.

_______________

Richard Wach died suddenly on 7 May. I thought I was one of his favourite non-family members, because he’d phone saying it was “Wujek Rysiek,” then chuckle. He used to play with my uncles Rysiek and Janusz at the Polish refugee camp in Tengeru, in then Tanganika, now Tanzania, and remained friends with them when they all moved to England long after WW2 had ended for others. I found this out when we met at a function at the Auckland Polish Association, when he took pity on a newcomer standing alone and asked me my maiden name.

I found out at his funeral that I wasn’t the only one he was a ‘wujek’ to. He befriended and mentored many in his community, and had a special affinity for new immigrants from any country. He knew what it was like to move and start again.

A sepia pic of a young boy in dungarees, sitting alone in what looks like hay.

He was a toddler when the Soviets removed him and his family from eastern Poland in February 1940. He last saw his grandmother when she left the cattle train to look for food when it stopped on its way towards what he called the Archangielsk forests, and it left the station without her. He knew that his grandfather died of starvation at the forced-labour facility deep in those forests, and that his parents went without food to feed him and his older brother, Stanisław. His father managed to find the Polish army in Uzbekistan, and enlisted, but died soon after. His mother accompanied her sons to Africa, but died of malaria in Tengeru in 1943.

In 1948, the brothers Wach, then nine and 12, sailed on the Carnarvon Castle, with my uncles and paternal babcia, to Southampton and a fresh start in England, where Pan Rysiek met his wife, Maureen. They immigrated to Canada in 1967 and, with three children, to Auckland in 1981.

This year we lost three beautiful Poles: a motherly angel, an inspiration, and an anchor.

So not a good riddance to 2021, but a farewell.

—Basia Scrivens

_______________

Joanna Kalinowska’s story is available at https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/joanna-adamek-kalinowska/  

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org/


Polish kitchens



My mother was the world’s second-worst cook. My husband and I confirmed it when we let her know we were on the road, six to seven hours from her place, and she said, “Good, I’ll get the pork chops in the oven now.” That dinner, with her favourite out-of-the-packet frozen diced mixed veg, lived up to our expectations.

She lost the worst cook title to our son’s partner’s grandmother, who made every main meal the same way: put a pot on the stove, add water and ingredients. Seeds in the butternut? All in. Trimming any meat? What?

My babcia, my mother’s mother-in-law, was the opposite. When I was little, she ran the kitchen at Fawley Court, Henley on Thames, the Marian Fathers’ boarding school for Polish boys, set in idyllic buildings and grounds on the Thames as it glides through Oxfordshire. Her baking was supreme, and she taught me in ways I sometimes did not appreciate when she was at home and away from her kitchen appliances, and made me use the back of a wooden spoon to cream castor sugar with either butter or egg yolks.

In the right foreground, two old ladies sit on chairs in a roped off area of a large garden. Large trees, including the beginning of a row of the same genus of tree, take up the background. A group sits under the first tree in the row. There is a loudspeaker in the middle and an empty chair to the left foreground, outside and behind the cordon where the ladies are.
Czesław Siegieda almost certainly captured my babcia, left, and her life-long friend in this Fawley Court photograph. It is babcia’s look, her glasses, her hairdo, her handbag, and her shoes, and her friend has aged the same way. No doubt the two ladies fed the visiting photographer, as they fed the boys, the brothers, the other staff, and anyone else who arrived or lived at the estate. Babcia was a stickler for being on time and I can also imagine the two being early for a school presentation, maybe involving the group of boys in the background.

Babcia taught me to bake by muttering hints (Never use all the sugar a recipe tells you to; never take your eyes off the stove when you are making masa for torte; add a dash of self-raising flour to ground almonds…) and by allowing me to absorb the feel of a bake. Measurements were by cup or glass.

I was proud to have baked my first cake without babcia’s supervision, aged eight, and it did not occur to me that my mother did not bake. I followed babcia’s recipes by memory. She did not write them down – that I know of – but after I left England and babcia, my memory faded.

The last time my mother saw babcia in England, she insisted the old lady give her her sponge recipe “or it will be gone forever” so now I have babcia’s official recipe for that in my mother’s handwriting.

There is something about people who share recipes. Few of them work out as they say. Maybe I read too literally, but there always seems to be something left hanging, too loose, too easily misinterpreted, like: how “cool” is “cool?”

I don’t think I will ever find the chemical wizardry that was babcia’s famous honey-cake, and am tired of trying, so decided to create something simpler this Christmas: pierniczki, Polish gingerbread biscuits.   

My old-fashioned Polish cookbook was too loose in its description of “honey-cake spices,” so I trawled the internet for inspiration. It was the first of three versions that I made this week. Christmas reminds me of babcia – and her glorious torte – and in her honour, here is my version of pierniczki. I am not sure whether she would have been quite so liberal with the spices, but I have the feeling that her angel on my shoulder might nod an okay, possibly admitting that her hours babysitting me were not wasted:

A pohutukawa Christmas plate with star-shaped pierniczki with red blobs of icing on the stars.

PIERNICZKI

  1. Prepare the spices. Most recipes use less than I do, but I like the kick. Make them to your own taste. If you use ground, buy them fresh. Apart from ginger, I like to grind – or in the case of nutmeg, grate – my own. I don’t believe ground husks add anything to flavour, so I open the cardamom pods and use just the seeds, and sieve the husks from the coriander.
    – 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    – 4 teaspoons ready ground ginger
    – 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
    – 2 teaspoons ground cloves
    – 2 teaspoons ground coriander (possibly odd, but it works)
    – 3 teaspoons ground cardamom
    A teaspoon of ground black pepper adds a zing, but may be a step too far for some.
  2. Other ingredients:
    – 115g unsalted butter (the equivalent of a Polish “stick”)
    – 250g honey (try to use a good, creamed version)
    – Two large eggs at room temperature
    – Two sets of castor sugar: 125g for the main mix and 60g for the pre-mix
    – 3 cups of flour: after experimenting with grammes, I found a cup measure that seems to work. I tap it to make sure that the flour is sitting well inside.
    – 2 teaspoons baking powder.
  3. Method:
    – Combine the spices, butter, and honey in a pan and cook gently for a few minutes. (I chose this bit out of one old-fashioned recipe because it reminded me of savoury recipes using spices that start with “heat spices in a frying pan.”)
    – Set aside.
    – In another small pan – which you have prepared by re-cleaning an already clean pan with boiling water, and wiping with a clean cloth – let the 60g sugar dissolve into caramel on a medium-low heat. (Do not stir, do not add anything, do not touch it. You may jiggle the pot slightly, but if the pot is clean, and no foreign body has touched the sugar, it should dissolve.)
    – As soon as the caramel is done, add the still-warm honey mixture to it, mixing quickly as the caramel tends to harden quickly.
    – Allow to cool. (Don’t be distracted for too long. Here, “cool” is more “lukewarm.”)
    – Beat the egg whites – they need to be quite stiff – and set aside.
    – Beat the egg yolks with the 125g sugar until creamy. (Preferably not with a wooden spoon, or your butter-honey-spice-caramel combination will truly cool.)
    – Add the honey mixture to the creamed eggs.
    – Gradually incorporate the sifted flour and baking powder until it gets too stiff to handle easily.
    – From then, alternate between adding the egg whites and the rest of the flour. (You may need a dash more flour. Here, you need to use your initiative.)
    – Transfer to a ceramic pot that you can keep, covered, in the fridge for five to seven days.
    – Roll out cool dough to about 5mm. Cut out shapes, place on baking paper and bake in a pre-heated (200 deg) oven for seven to 10 minutes. Be careful. Do not overbake.
    – When cool, decorate with a melted chocolate glaze; or one made from icing sugar and lemon; or icing sugar, water, and almond extract. Decoration depends on who you have in the kitchen to help you.
Rows of Christmas tree-shaped pierniczki. Naive decoration with green icing.

 Enjoy the Christmas baking!

—Basia Scrivens

_______________

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org.

I have tried without success to contact the website of Czesław Siegieda, and will continue to do so.


Scars Left Behind



The rust stains in the low pebble-rendered walls drew me to cross the road. I saw that they were caused by the remains of shells, and that the heavy railings set into those walls were pockmarked too.

black-painted railings at an angle into the distance, showing bullet markings

I followed the railing-wall around the corner and found the cause: The building had been integral in the 63-day Warsaw Uprising in 1944.

It belonged, and still does, to the Polska Wytwórnia Papierów Wartościowych, the Polish Security Printing Works, details I found out thanks to a series of several giant posters mounted along the railing on Zakroczymska Street, and more around the corner on Sanguszka.

I did not set out with any specific plan that day, my second in the city. I took my street map and meandered north from where I was staying just outside the Stare Miasto, the Old Town. Earlier, I had spent time at another Warsaw Uprising poster exhibition, mounted on much smaller railings outside the Roman Catholic church on the New Town market square, barely 400 metres away.  

Those scars of battle gave reality to the PWPW poster exhibition. I was glad that the railings still stood, defiant and as obstinate as any Pole. I wanted to record them and their story.  

I hadn’t been there long when a man, who I assumed was a security guard, appeared on the other side of the railings and asked what I was doing.

I’m a visitor, I told him in my imperfect tongue. I am Polish. I am interested in all this. It is my history. He seemed satisfied.

I am glad that I was able to turn the corner into Sanguszka and spend more time with the posters before another security guard approached me. Remove yourself, he said, not interested in my reason for being there or taking photographs of the posters. Then, I did not immediately link the PWPW logo on the posters with the building, but even if I had managed to mount an argument—Is an outdoor exhibition not meant to encourage people to stop, read, and take photographs?—I allowed myself to be bullied away. He reminded me too much of the 1970s South African security police, and I was aware of being on my own.

I was disappointed and frustrated: There were several posters I had not had a chance to get to, and I was interested in the next one. Surely he was too young to be in a commanding position. I crossed the road to the park, continued to find and photograph memorials, and made my way back to my accommodation along the river.

A shot down the two-metre high railings, showing eight large posters
Were not for the distinct change in pavement, and Google maps, I may have thought I had seen this exhibition elsewhere, because it is not there today. The poster I was about to read and photograph before being told to leave was the one in the middle: Juliusz Kulesza was just 16 when he was appointed as assistant to commander Marchel defending the printing works, a position given to him because of his knowledge of the building and the area.

_______________

The candid recollections of a 12-year-old who became a theatre nurse’s assistant during the uprising, opened the way for a new menu in our War Immigrants page. The story is called Sixty-three Days and appears under 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

It reminded me of the many plaques and memorials to the Warsaw Uprising in that city, and specifically of the railings I saw on 14 August 2016.

Polish insurgents who worked at the printing works, captured them from the Germans on 2 August 1944 and, with other AK (Armia Krajowa) units, held them until 28 August. German forces supported by tanks and airplanes bombarded the buildings and pushed the insurgents to lower and lower levels. Dr Hanna Petrynowska, the PWPW’s factory doctor, had set up a field hospital in the underground shelter. Some of the surviving insurgents managed to escape, but Dr Petrynowska and her nurses refused to leave the wounded.

According to the Warsaw Uprising Museum, Dr Petrynowska was performing a surgical procedure when the Germans finally re-took the building. She told the German soldier that she would not withdraw until she had finished. He shot her dead. The remaining nurses and wounded died after Germans threw grenades into the hospital bunker.     

A shot on the other side of the poster exhibition mounted on the PWPW railings.
From left: Dr Hanna Petrynowska; Lt. Czesław Lech “Biały,” one of the commanders during the battle for the PWPW building, who died as he covered the evacuation of his insurgent troops from the plant on 28 August 1944; Mjr. Mieczysław Chyżyński “Pełka” another commander during the PWPW defence, who escaped the building with a group of insurgents two days earlier.

I do not know whether the PWPW commemorates its former employees every August. I do know that I was impressed by the number of Polish and Varsovian flags I saw flying from city lampposts and all sorts of buildings.

As I walked through the castle gardens on my way back to the apartment, I was stopped by the noise and by-passes of several military jets: the Polish Air Force rehearsing for the Polish Armed Forces Day parade the next day.

I had stepped into the annual commemoration of the Miracle on the Vistula, that day on 15 August 1920 when Poles repelled the Soviets in the Battle for Warsaw, also known as the 18th Decisive Battle of the World.  

—Barbara Scrivens

_______________

Our full Warsaw Uprising story is available at: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/sixty-three-days/

Information on Juliusz Kulesza from: http://sunday.niedziela.pl/artykul.php?dz=z_historii&id_art=00024

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org.


To Be Believed



Stasia née Błażków Kennedy in 2015.

Stasia Kennedy was enjoying her usual cup of tea and a chat after Sunday Mass when the conversation at her table turned to a documentary that had aired on television the night before.

Those were the days of captive audiences watching few channels, so most people at her table had seen the same programme, about the Polish children who had lived in Pahiatua during WW2.

To some New Zealanders, decades after the war, their story seemed incredible. Soviet soldiers rounding up families at gunpoint and in the early hours, bundling them onto cattle trains, delivering them into the far reaches of the USSR, and making them part of a food for labour regime, must have seemed the world away that it was.

The 733 Polish children in the documentary escaped with the Polish army to then-Persia, and arrived in New Zealand with their 105 caregivers.

The consensus at Stasia’s table was one of scepticism. When one woman said, “I can’t believe it… this can’t be true, nobody can be that cruel,” Stasia had to correct her:

“I said, ‘1944, first of November.’ I said, ‘I was one of Pahiatua children.’

“And she said, ‘But you never talk about it.’

“And I don’t. I don’t talk about it because people don’t believe me. They say, ‘You’re making it up, Stasia.’

“Why would I make it up, something like that?

“Sometimes I lie in bed and think about it, all the things that I went through and how I survived. I can’t believe it myself but still, I survived. I was meant to survive. I don’t talk about it, except to my brother, only to ask him a few questions. He said, ‘What you remember, Stasia, everything’s true.’”

_______________

Documentaries like the one New Zealanders saw that night, and films like A Forgotten Odyssey brought life to the hundreds of testimonies that researchers like Zoe Zajdlerowa took down at the behest of Polish Prime Minister General Władysław Sikorski.

General Sikorski’s government was keen to find out how Poles felt after escaping Stalin’s forced-labour facilities; what had been their experiences in those facilities, run by Stalin’s Secret Police, the NKVD, in northern Russia and Siberia; how they survived the kolkhozes of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; and how they managed to leave.

From the time Soviet Russia invaded Poland on 17 September 1939, to the time Hitler turned on his ally on 21 June 1941, the Soviets managed to extract an estimated 1.7-million Poles from eastern Poland into the USSR. My paternal grandfather, Stanisław Nieścior, in his deposition for the Polish army wrote, wrote:

A uniformed man in his late 40s round glasses, dark hair.
Stanisław Nieścior

“We were locked in a starvation prison. There was a lack of manufactured goods, clothes, food, and fat… We were not expected to leave. Information about Poland, none. We were repeatedly told to forget Poland, that we were here forever…

“Punishment for being late to work, first time, reduction of wages by 25–30 percent for five to six months, second time, imprisonment. Relief from work could only be obtained with confirmation of a high fever. Lack of appropriate medication… Frequent fatal accidents… The gamekeeper Czerski lost two children, two and 10, from exhaustion.”

Hitler was not expected to cross the Soviet Russian-Nazi German border that the two powers concocted to divide Poland, but he did. The Poles were not expected to leave the facilities, but they did—after Hitler’s drive towards Moscow compelled Stalin to release the Poles, whom he planned to use to fight the Germans in Russia.

Some NKVD commanders in charge of the forced-labour facilities did not want to lose their labour. The commander at Tiesowaja, which held my grandfather, grandmother and three of their sons, told my grandfather, who could speak Russian, that there was a “lack of release destination documents.” They left anyway, on 12 September 1941. It took them almost five months to get to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. I know, because Stanisław Nieścior enlisted in the Polish army in Czokpak on 6 February 1942.

He wrote briefly about his and others’ experiences in Tiesowaja, and would have had some inkling of the numbers of Polish civilians in similar situations, but I wonder whether any of the survivors would have known what a small group they belonged to.

_______________

Total numbers of Poles taken against their will to the USSR between 1939 and 1941 vary, depending on the source: Soviet authorities apparently admitted to holding only 387,932 Poles during that time. Other calculations reach 2,636,000. I have taken the research of producer of the film A Forgotten Odyssey, the late Jagna Wright, as one of the most reliable.

She stuck at 1,692,000, made up from: prisoners of war from the 1939 campaign, officers who were imprisoned in western Russia and who were murdered by the NKVD in April and May 1940; civilians sent to forced-labour facilities; those condemned to prison elsewhere; and those incorporated into the Red Army.  

General Władysław Anders, who organised the Polish army’s formation in the USSR, became worried when hundreds of officers he knew had been captured by the Soviets, did not enlist. In a chapter he called Those We Left Behind, he faced the fact that only 115,000 military and civilian Poles left the USSR with the Polish army in 1942. (A few more continued to escape through Ashgabad over the treacherous Kopet Dag mountains.)

The deck and parts of a bridge on a ship, filled with throngs of people.
One of the cargo vessels that carried Polish soldiers and civilians from the USSR, over the Caspian Sea, to then-Persia.

At best, fewer than 10 percent of the Poles removed to the USSR from 1939 to 1941, managed to leave.

Stasia née Błażków Kennedy was nine in 1942. Her mother and two sisters died of typhus in Uzbekistan. The Polish army accepted her brothers, Władysław and Bronisław, but not her frail 62-year-old father, Michał, who guided his daughter towards freedom, and died once cargo vessel that took them from Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi) docked in the then-Persian port of Pahlevi (now Bandar-e Anzali).

She learnt too early what it took to survive, and to keep quiet about her experiences.

“It’s not their fault I went through the war. What do I have to be nasty for? Why do I have to talk about it? I tell myself, ‘Just forget about it.’

“But I don’t forget. I don’t forget. To the day I die, I won’t forget.”

—Barbara Scrivens

_______________

Stasia Błażków Kennedy died on 20 April 2017. Her story is available at: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/stasia-blazkow-kennedy/

Władysław Błażków died on 8 May 2019. His story is available at: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/wladyslaw-blazkow-2/

General Władysław Anders’ book, An Army in Exile, was printed by The Battery Press Inc, Nashville, Tennessee, in 2004.

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org.


A Nod to Old Warsaw



There is something about milestones in one’s life that put a perspective on what one considers important.

By 2009, although I had lived in three countries, on opposite hemispheres and sides of the world, I had never set foot in continental Europe. Five days in Poland to see maternal family were not enough then, and they made me yearn for more.

an old building adorned with intricate paintwork

In August 2016 I marked my 60th birthday with three weeks in Poland, two on my own in Warsaw. As far as I know, my family has no connection with that city, but it drew me and I wanted to absorb its Polishness. No English-speaking husband. No children. No distractions besides the place.

I had booked an apartment on the edge of the Stare Miasto, the Old Town, on Podwale, overlooking the Barbican, part of its 16th century-defence wall. I love old architecture, and the address suited me.

I had to pick up the key, and caught a taxi from the airport to the office in Muranów. They gave me the key and address, and asked if they could call me a taxi to get to the apartment.

I decided I could walk the kilometre and a half. I needed to get my bearings, and wanted to investigate the grocery shops. How hard could it be rolling a suitcase and carrying hand luggage in midsummer, along unfamiliar streets? (If I had known about the cobbled pavements, I would have done my recce without the baggage.)

After a good hour, completely lost, I joined a crowd of tourists on Freta Street being told that the restaurant opposite was one of the most famous in the area. It had the best food, but the customers had to behave, or the owner would yell at them or throw them out. When the tourists moved on, I asked the speaker for directions: Podwale was around the corner.

The building used to be a convalescent hospital. The first evening started a ritual—I sat in the deep window-seat and watched the tourists go through the Barbican gates as the sounds of various violinists, choirs, and the regular clip-clopping of horse-drawn carriages drifted towards me.

Within an hour from seven the first morning, I had taken more than 60 photographs around the Stare Miasto’s market square. I kept thinking about a friend’s story of his trip to Poland in the 1980s. When researching a caption for it, I found out that residents who had survived WW2, came back not quite being able to pinpoint what was different—it had been rebuilt in the likeness of a Bernardo Bellotto painting rather than as it was before the Nazis bombed it.

The sub-standard post-war Soviet materials did not last, and there are huge differences between my 2016 photographs and his 1980s ones. Restoration continues. I loved the painted embroidery on the walls, the facade embellishments, and the intricate, quirky metalwork that sat on light fittings and shop signs.

The first afternoon I turned right instead of left through the Barbican, noticed a plain cement plaque on a wall, and stopped short. On that spot the Nazis murdered 30 Poles—the same day my maternal grandfather, a bombardier in an anti-tank unit in the 1st Polish Armoured Division, was killed in action in northern France.

That was the first of many plaques and memorials I found and photograph as I walked around the Stare Miasto and beyond. Memorials of WW2 heroes touched me more than the overblown statues of kings or soldiers gone centuries ago.

I loved the way adults with children on their school holidays told them their history. As I waited to cross a street, I lingered to listen to a babcia telling her grandson about King Zygmunt on top of the huge column overlooking the Castle Square and beyond.

Sometimes, there were strange juxtapositions between the beautiful and the blunt. Barely 100 metres from an elegant statue of Marie Skłodoska Curie on the Kościelna, was this memorial to the AK, the Armia Krajowa, or resistance movement, active from 1942 to 1945. For 63 days from 1 August 1944, in what became known as the Warsaw Uprising, the AK held German troops back from the Stare Miasto and surrounds. As the photograph below says, we remember.

White eagles were everywhere, but I appreciated the bociany, the storks beloved by Poles like my late mother. I passed this one every time I went to get my pierogi at a recommended place on Bednarska. She seemed happy with her brood sitting on the roof of a bookshop on the Krakowskie Przedmieście.

The Varsovians’ serious appreciation of history, recent and centuries old, paralleled their sense of humour. An inn opposite the Royal Castle had this old man trying to make his getaway without paying.

I mastered the Metro—I had to, to get to a Polish friend who accompanied me to the National Library—but not the bus system. I feared getting on the wrong one. Not all my destinations were as far away as the Warsaw Uprising museum. My pocket-guide map told me, among many other things, that Marie Skłodowska Curie was born in the building housing her museum on Freta Street, a few minutes from Podwale.  

I loved my time in Warsaw, and the last few days with my cousin Celina from Puck were special. I don’t know whether I would have been able to catch the train north if it had not been for her. When she said be ready to change platforms at any time, I knew that the protocols at the main Warsaw railway station were beyond me.

The last morning i n Warsaw, Celina insisted on popping around the corner for a quick bite at her favourite Warsaw takeaway. She led me to the very restaurant I had heard about on my first afternoon. The setting was stark, but the food was delicious.

What had I been doing walking to the pierogi place on Bednarska all this time?  

—Barbara Scrivens

_______________

Michael Jarka’s piece on 1980s Poland is available at: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/visiting-poland-under-martial-law/

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org.


Taranaki’s First Polish Families



For years, a general story on Taranaki’s early Polish history seemed as impenetrable to me as the bush on the lower slopes of its mountain in the 1870s.

Descendants of the first Polish Taranaki families, when explaining their interwoven connections, inevitably ended with: “It’s complicated.”

The first Poles in Taranaki arrived off the Fritz Reuter, which carried more than 500 continental Europeans from Hamburg to Wellington in August 1876. The 260 or so Poles among them embarked in groups with other family or friends, and at first tended to stay in those groups. During their push for immigrants in the 1870s, the New Zealand government suddenly stopped accepting people from continental Europe. It apparently did not expect the Fritz Reuter’s arrival, and spent several months finding places to send them—away from the main centres.

The administration funnelled English-speaking settlers to more prosperous areas of the colony, like Otago with its goldfields, Canterbury, and Auckland. The non-English-speakers went inland to the Halcombe area, and settlements like Foxton, Whanganui, Hokitika, and Taranaki. The latter had developed a reputation for instability, thanks to the 1860s Taranaki Wars, which simmered with residual tensions between the colonisers and Maori who had had their land illegally confiscated.

The immigration barracks on Marsland Hill in New Plymouth accepted 52 of the Fritz Reuter passengers, among the first to leave Wellington’s stretched accommodation in mid-August. Of the 30 Poles among them, 27 walked out towards Inglewood in early September. Taranaki did not seem to receive the same funding as other centres. New Plymouth’s harbour was only finished in 1886, which prevented large ships docking, and allowed officials in ports such as Wellington to lure away many English-speaking labourers.

This worked in favour of the Taranaki Poles, because it allowed them to make a space for themselves, and later they were able to buy “waste” land—sections of that dense bush— at cheaper prices. The land carried a huge cost in labour, felling, stumping and clearing, but the Poles were patient, and cherished the stability that came with owning their own farms.

“Dense” is the descriptor attached most often to the bush that the first Poles walked towards in 1876, and this photograph shows just how dense it was. The many large trees sheltered a rampant undergrowth, still giving work to the settlers in the early 1900s, when this photograph was taken. The man on the left has been identified as Ben Dombrowski and the one in the middle as Paul Neustrowski.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Taranaki became home to the largest group of early Polish settlers, to the extent that young Polish men in other Polish settlements visited friends in Taranaki to become acquainted with its young Polish ladies.

Within a few generations, the original families, their married sisters and brothers with different surnames, marriages, births, deaths, and remarriages created a genealogical mass of relationships. I thought of it as a tightly packed ball of coloured threads of different thicknesses. Some families had helped me loosen some of the threads, but the ball remained largely intact, until I re-read a newspaper clipping celebrating 150 years since the first arrival of Devon and Cornish settlers in New Plymouth in 1841 that also mentioned Polish families receiving rations at Marsland Hill.

The clipping was among a growing number of files on Taranaki that sit on my shelves, with copies I had taken of the late Florinda Lambert’s transcriptions of news snippets from various Taranaki newspapers. She spent 14 years researching, and whenever I visited Taranaki, I made sure I spent a few days with the set of books she left to Puke Ariki.

Working on various early Polish family stories helped me understand more about their unstinting work ethic, their tenacity, and their pride in preserving their customs. That drew me to investigate and write about the Fritz Reuter in 2018. I tried to untangle why the New Zealand government, which so needed labourers, became so biased against continental Europeans. I called that piece The Human By-catch in a Colonial Immigration Industry because the people, the sentient beings who struggled to get here in 1876, were treated in such an unwelcome way—to the extent that the Fritz Reuter passengers are still not recorded on official immigration records.

Polish genealogist Ray Watembach and I examined the Marsland Hill immigration barracks ration book at Puke Ariki a year later. His Neustrowski great-grandparents, grandmother and grand-uncle were among those listed.

The large accounting book, divided by months, gave the names of exactly who had been in the buildings, and on what days. Eight of those names—Biesiek, Dodunski, Dusienski, Myszewski, Neustrowski, Potroz, Uhlenberg, and Volzke—became the core of the latest story in our Early Settlers page: Under the Mountain; Layers in the Mille-Feuille of Taranaki History.

The 150th anniversary article uncovered by Florinda Lambert shows the writer knew what they faced:   

“Those who arrived in Taranaki in the 1870s or 1880s may have been able to step ashore at the foot of Mount Eliot [Marsland Hill] and walk only a few metres to find the comforts and services of a fairly substantial town, but once they turned their backs on those comforts and headed off into the virgin bush, they were as much on their own as any pioneers could expect to be.”

RW Brown captioned this photograph—in his book Te Moa, 100 Years of Inglewood History, 1875–1975—“Logging junkers in the bush.” It shows the engineering ingenuity used to drag the massive logs out of the bush, and the girth of those logs.

By 1879, Taranaki accepted Poles leaving “special settlements” along the West Coast, such as Jackson’s Bay, which imploded through under-funding and mismanagement. Taranaki needed as many willing labourers as it could get, and they soon joined other settlers in the bush. Although the Poles had been in New Zealand for several years, they started from scratch.

The Bielski, Bielawski, Crofskey (Kurowski), Lehrke, Stieller, and Zimmerman families arrived from Jackson’s Bay, and the Chabowski, Drzewicki, Fabish, Jakubowski, Kuklinski, Lewandowski, Meller, Rogucki, and Stachurski families from Hokitika, where many Polish families stayed after refusing to land at Jackson’s Bay.

Naturalisation records in 1918 included other Polish families, such as Dombroski, Drozdowski (Szczodrowski), Dudek, Dunik, Dusienski, Kowalewski, Pioch, Piontkowski, Schroeder, and Voitrekowsky (Woiciechowski).

These days, much of that impenetrable bush has been tamed, but I have the feeling that, while the Taranaki Polish family ball of interwoven relationships may continue to loosen a few of its threads, it will keep many close to its heart.

—Barbara Scrivens

_______________

The Taranaki story is available at: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/under-the-mountain/

The story on the Fritz Reuter is available at: https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/fritz-reuter/.

If you would like to comment on this post, or any other story, please email editor@polishhistorynewzealand.org.