World War II turned lakhs of Pol­ish chil­dren into or­phans. Be­tween 1942 and 1946, a thou­sand of them were given shel­ter by the Nawana­gar Ma­haraja. On the 100th year of Poland’s in­de­pen­dence, many of them re­turned to re­live their child­hood years in Gu­jarat

Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur) - - Nation - Paramita Ghosh

It is mid-af­ter­noon in Jam­na­gar and a bus is turn­ing to take a round of one of its squares. The arch­way of a on­ce­mag­nif­i­cent fort is in sight. Ro­man Gutowski, 83, a re­tired Pol­ish civil engi­neer, pulls back the grey cur­tain on one of the bus win­dows, and peers out. The Jam­na­gar he sees 71 years af­ter he left it is not what he re­mem­bers of the place. His son, Tomek, a busi­ness­man, who has brought along the third-gen­er­a­tion Gutowski, his son Ma­ciej, is shoot­ing with his cam­era to en­sure that this time he does re­mem­ber.

Pho­to­graphs can­not stand on their own without mem­o­ries. “I know about Jam­na­gar and Balachadi from my fa­ther’s sto­ries,” says Tomek. “Ma­ciej must see where his grand­fa­ther comes from. Had I just shown him pic­tures….”

Ro­man Gutowski grew up along­side al­most a thou­sand Pol­ish chil­dren in a camp at Balachadi, a vil­lage 25 km off Jam­na­gar city (the cap­i­tal of the erst­while princely state of Nawana­gar in present­day Gu­jarat) in the Bri­tish In­dia of the ’40s. These were chil­dren of mainly Pol­ish sol­diers and they were try­ing to some­how sur­vive the hor­rors of World War II.

The Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion of Poland (Septem­ber 1, 1939) led to the even­tual ex­ter­mi­na­tion of six mil­lion peo­ple. Lists were drawn up of teach­ers, cler­gy­men, the in­tel­li­gentsia, army of­fi­cers for pub­lic ex­e­cu­tion; mil­lions of Jews died in con­cen­tra­tion camps. The psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact of the Rus­sian in­va­sion (Septem­ber 17) was only slightly less dev­as­tat­ing. Pol­ish sol­diers were drafted into the Soviet army by force; fam­i­lies were com­pelled to join re-ed­u­ca­tion camps; chil­dren were sep­a­rated from their moth­ers.

Gutowski’s fa­ther was forced to sol­dier for Soviet Union; his mother and sis­ters were sent to Uzbekistan. He was sent to an or­phan­age there as well. But then he was se­lected without his mother’s knowl­edge and trans­ported to In­dia around the time when ef­forts were be­ing made by the Pol­ish govern­ment-in-ex­ile to evac­u­ate some of the fam­i­lies from the USSR.


The first con­crete of­fer to re­ha­bil­i­tate these chil­dren came from the Ma­haraja of Nawana­gar, Jam Saheb Digvi­jaysin­hji Ran­jitsin­hji Jadeja. Be­tween 1942 and

1947, these chil­dren lived un­der the Jam Saheb’s pro­tec­tion and were main­tained by his pri­vate purse in a camp close to his sum­mer palace in Balachadi.

The chil­dren’s plight had moved the 46-year-old king be­cause he was in­ter­ested in Pol­ish cul­ture due to his friend­ship with Ig­nacy Padrewski, a Pol­ish pi­anist and diplo­mat whom he had met in Switzer­land.

Eight of the 1,000 Pol­ish chil­dren – now mostly in their 80s – he housed were re­cently in Jam­na­gar en route to Balachadi to com­mem­o­rate the 100th year of Poland’s in­de­pen­dence in this corner of In­dia where they once flew their flag (even as they had lost their na­tion), and prac­tised their reli­gion and their cul­ture.

Other than when they were with their par­ents, Balachadi is the one place where these chil­dren from war-torn Poland were able to have a child­hood. It was here that seven-year-old Ro­man Bu­towski first saw an ele­phant; where Wieslaw Stypula, 15, held up a trum­pet; where six-year-old

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