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Sep 26, 2023

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Polish Refugees In India
During And After WWII

The following article, written by Anuradha Bhattacharjee,  first appeared in the April 2013 issue of The Sarmatian Review. Permission granted for reprint. The article will be published in a series, so please look for its continuation in the Post Eagle over the next few weeks.

The journey through India of the Polish victims of Soviet deportations rescued after the German attack on its erstwhile ally (the Soviet Union) in 1941 is a familiar story to Poles but not to Western readers. Among those who know something about this significant episode of history, the passage to India and ensuing domicile is usually assumed to have taken place under a British-sponsored and British-financed scheme. A study of relevant documents reveals that it was the Indian Princely State (PD) of Nawanagar that offered the first domicile to the Polish children evacuated out of the Soviet Union. The first 500 Polish children were hosted in Balachadi (in Nawanagar State) and were maintained by charitable funds raised in India, subscribed to by several Indian princes and wealthy individuals. During the 1942–48 period, Indian contributions for the Polish orphans amounted to Rs 600,000, or 6,765,607 euros in 2008 terms.  Even scholarly literature abounds in inaccurate statements, such as “[British] India, which had already agreed to take 1,000 children, increased its offer in December 1942 to accept 11,000. . . . [They] were settled at a camp near Balachadi (Kolhapur),” or “In addition to the East African camps, a camp was established for adult [Polish] refugees near Bombay. The latter camp was primarily funded by a Hindu Maharaja.”  In reality, Balachadi and Kolhapur were two different camps and they had different antecedents and funding patterns.

The reception of the Polish civilian war victims in India in 1942 was initiated by the Indian Princely State of Nawanagar when no place for the 500 orphaned children could be found in the whole of British India. The State of Nawanagar took the bold step of adopting the children to prevent their forcible repatriation to Soviet-occupied Poland at the end of the Second World War. The initiative played a critical role in the preservation and formation of the Polish diaspora worldwide.

It should be noted here that the Indian Princely States were a distinct political entity and differed from British India, even though they too were severely subjugated. They ceased to exist after 1947 upon India’s independence from the British, when instruments of accession were signed under varying circumstances and they joined the Union of India. British India covered only half the area and two-thirds of the population of India, the rest being made up by the 600-odd Princely States. In 1945 the Labor Party decided against honoring the treaties made between the States and the British regarding reinstatement of their full powers and territories at the time of the British withdrawal from India. Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy, told the princes that they must join either India or Pakistan upon the departure of the British from India in 1947. In the states of Kashmir, Bahawalpur, Junagarh, and Hyderabad, the ruler and the people had opposing ideas about which country to join. The history of the post-British period of India does not reflect the existence of the Princely States, which were islands of self-rule in the occupied country of India.

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The camp at Balachadi for 1,000 Polish children evacuated from the Soviet Gulag was funded through charitable funds raised in India and not by British contributions.

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Nawanagar and Kolhapur were Princely States, and Balachadi (now part of Gujarat) was then part of Nawanagar. The camp at Balachadi for 1,000 Polish children evacuated from the Soviet Gulag was funded through charitable funds raised in India. According to a communication from the External Affairs Department of the British Government of India to the secretary of state for India on July 1, 1947, the Indian public had contributed some six lakh rupees for the maintenance of Polish refugees, an amount that otherwise would have been charged to Her Majesty’s Government.

Kolhapur is located southeast of Mumbai in the present state of Maharashtra. At that time, the senior Maharanisaheb served as regent, while in practice two Britishers, Col. Harvey (the political agent) and Mr. E. W. Parry, wielded all the power. Kolhapur was a Princely State only in name, and the British had complete control over the royal family and the State. The camp at Valivade was set up in 1943 and it housed several thousand displaced Polish refugees. It was administered by the government of India acting as an agent of Her Majesty’s Government, that in turn were acting on behalf of the Polish government in exile in London. The camp was financed by funds placed at the disposal of HMG by the Polish government in exile. After HMG withdrew recognition of the exiled Polish government, the financial responsibility for the Valivade Camp went to the Interim Treasury Committee (ITC) of the United Nations Refugee Repatriation Agency (UNRRA).

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The camp at Valivade where Polish refugees lived was administered by the Government of India and it was financed by funds placed at the disposal of HMG by the Polish government-in-exile.

To Be Continued Next Week