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6 WWII Polish survivors to pay homage to a Maharaja who saved their lives

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Event scheduled at Jamnagar in Gujarat for Friday; will celebrate the life of Maharaja Jamsaheb Digvijay Singh Jadeja.

New Delhi: The story is all set to come a full circle. In the 1940s, some 1,000 Polish children owed their lives to a Maharaja in Jamnagar, Gujarat.

Now, 76 years later, six of them, aged nearly 90, are returning to the place that provided them refuge from Nazi and Soviet occupation of Poland during World War II.

The event called ‘Generations to Generations,’ scheduled for Friday in Jamnagar, is in celebration of 100 years of Polish independence.

It is an attempt to appreciate “a great act of Indian hospitality that bonded our two countries together,” Polish ambassador to India, Adam Burakowski, told ThePrint.

The commemorative event will be in honour of Maharaja Jamsaheb Digvijay Singh Jadeja, who housed the children in the princely state of Jamnagar. He died in 1966.

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The event, Burakowski said, will show the “best of both people”. He also said that the survivors reaching Gujarat Friday “remember everything”.

“Many of them lost their parents in Siberia but they found paradise (in Gujarat) in the middle of a terrible war,” he said. “It is my honour to bring the survivors back to a place that shaped their lives.”

Burakowski’s own life, however, seems to be fatefully enmeshed in the events that led to this moment.

“All these elements have a connection. One of Poland’s founding fathers, on whose account we get to celebrate 100 years of Poland’s independence, was a friend of the Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijay Singh Jadeja,” Burakowski said. “There is a school and a street named after the Maharaja in Poland. I graduated from that school”.

The ambassador isn’t a career diplomat but as is common practice in Poland, found his way to the embassy after being a professor in political science, with a specialisation in India.

A different journey

The journey for the six Poland–based survivors will be different this time — one of gratitude rather than fear.

In 1939, Germany attacked Poland from the West, while the Soviet Union narrowed in from the East. During the occupation, Soviet authorities forced hundreds of thousands of Poles to migrate deeper into Soviet territory, which included Siberia.

Germany’s attack on the USSR in 1941 changed the political landscape considerably, and a year later, some Polish refugees were allowed to leave the Soviet Union.

Around 1,000 children found their way to Gujarat, many of them orphans who lost their parents in Siberia. With the support of the Polish consulate in Bombay, Consul Eugeniusz Banasinski, along with his wife Kira, assured their safe journey across continents.

When they arrived in Gujarat in 1941, the Maharaja arranged for their stay at camps in Balachadi, a village in Jamnagar, where apart from food and shelter, a concerted effort was made to further their education and keep their Polish culture and traditions alive.

The Maharaja of Jamnagar celebrating Christmas with the survivors
The Maharaja of Jamnagar celebrating Christmas with the survivors | YouTube screengrab

“There’s a famous picture of the Maharaja celebrating Christmas with Polish children,” Burakowski told ThePrint.

Also read: India-US relations survived World War & Cold War. They may not survive Trump

The Maharaja was awarded the President’s medal, Poland’s highest honour.

In Warsaw, one can visit the Square of the ‘Good Maharaja’. In 1987, a group of survivors got together and collected enough money to build him a commemorative plaque at the Sainik School in Balachadi.

The commemorative event is a joint collaboration between the Republic of Poland, The Embassy of Poland in New Delhi, Government of Gujarat, Polish Institute (New Delhi), Indo-Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Poland and Sainik School, Balachadi.

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