Polish children meeting Kiwi children
photo courtesy of Vivienne Bibby




Land of Exiles and Refugees


When the student is ready, the master appears. ~Buddhist Proverb

I must have been ready when, in the nineteen fifties a group of refugees from Europe came to live in the small township of Pahiatua in New Zealand.

There had been a refugee camp built for the more than seven hundred Polish children, invited by the New Zealand Government in 1944 and schooled in the local convent. We had three boys in our class in the mid fifties , their cropped blonde hair and blue eyes seemed extraordinary and exotic to we country children.

My parents were active in the local church and befriended many of the Displaced Persons (D Ps as they were called ) who arrived some time after the Polish children , and as many came into our home we were privileged to meet them.

The holocaust was never mentioned so we didnít know until later why these people had to leave their homes, but we got the idea that these were cultured people who had suffered much.

Mr Balint, the Davids, Esterhasys and the Yaverovskis and others whose names escape me, visited us on Sunday afternoons to practice their English and sing or play for many were talented musicians . We had the good fortune, just before Christmas to be invited to the barracks in the Camp. I was even allowed behind the counter in the Camp canteen.

It was in a bare bedroom that I saw the tree. Somehow the D Ps had fossicked for sturdy twigs, painted them silver and hung the delicate glass baubles they must have carried all the way from Poland .

In the light of the small window in the dark cubicle that served as their quarters, the ornaments glittered in the summer sunlight. I had never seen such an elegant Christmas tree. It was so simple and so beautiful I can see it still.

Ever since then, each Christmas I have collected branches, to silver and stand in a tall glass art deco vase and hung my treasured and hard won glass baubles to reflect light as tribute to the refugees who had lost so much yet had some much to teach us when they came to enrich New Zealand after the War .

I will never forget them, for

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. John Keats Endymion, bk.i, 1.1

by Vivienne Bibby.