A Little Poland in India – Story of of the “Good Maharaja Square” at Warsaw

” Do not consider yourself orphans.

You are now Nawnagaris and I am Bapu, father of all the people of Nawanagar, so also yours. ” 

 “A LITTLE POLAND IN INDIA” is the true and captivating story of the then Jam Saheb (Ruler) Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja of Nawanagar, nephew of famous Indian cricketer Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji of the Jadeja clan, a princely state in the Kathiawar Peninsula, off the land of Gujarat, in India – where human compassion is customary since generations. It is the heart-warming story of an enriched historical bond between India and Poland. A story that represents people-to people contact in its most humane form, beyond borders and across continents; a story of compassion, love and brotherhood etched in the cultural and historical connect for India and Poland. This film is a result of the mutual history of both countries which shows the true compassion and magnanimity of India and her citizens to Polish children, a perfect example of humanism that should never be forgotten.

 

During World War II, about 1000 Polish children from war-torn, occupied Poland and Soviet prison camps in Stalin’s Siberia, travelled all the way to India, where Jam Sahib took personal risks to make arrangements at a time when the world was at war and India was struggling for its Independence. He built a camp for them in a place called Balachadi beside his summer palace, 25 km from his capital city Jamnagar, and made them feel at home. The most detailed account of the story can be found in the book ‘Poles in India – 1942-1948’ (1st edition in Polish published in 2000, London; 2nd edition published in English in the UK by the Association of Poles in India in 2012). This book not only contains in-depth and extensive research on the subject but is also based on archival material and personal reminisces of the Polish refugees. This book is a collective work (644 pages) which deals with almost every aspect of the story in great detail.

 

 

There are also plenty of narratives in English by those who remembered their names as refugees in India; Maria van der Linden, for instance, recounts her arrival as a child in her book ‘An Unforgettable Journey’ (Dunmore Press Palmerston North, New Zealand: 1994). Another noteworthy book on the subject was written by Anna J. Bonshek about her father’s trails in India as a young boy in ‘Heniek: A Polish Boy’s Coming of Age in India during World War II’, (2009).

Thus, there is plenty of material available both in print and electronic form on the subject, much of which is easily accessible to members of the public. Apart from literature, the events of both Indian and Polish shared history have been commemorated in many ways, including the inauguration of the Good Maharaja Square in Warsaw (2013). It complements the very popular Warsaw Bednarska High School whose Honorary Patron is the Maharaja. Often referred to as the “Polish Maharaja”, Jam Saheb was posthumously awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit by the current President of Poland,Bronislaw Komorowski, following a campaign led by the Centre for Poland-Asia Studies (CSPA).

Noteworthy is also the joint international effort that made the transportation of these refugee children to India possible at all. It was made possible by the successful cooperation between the Indian local authorities, a few Indian maharajas, the Red Cross, the Polish II Corps Command, the Consulate General of Poland in Bombay and the British Army (for whom Poles were a very close ally at the time of the war). All of them, however not to the same extent, contributed to creating “A Little Poland in India”. Further Polish transports came to India by sea, from the port of Ahvaz to Bombay. Other than this special camp of Balachadi near Jamnagar of the then Nawanagar state ruled by Jam Saheb, several other camps were opened in and around Bombay, with the biggest family camp located at Valivad near Kohlapur in Maharashtra.

All the Polish Balachadi survivor children of this film are now in their old age and this film will be no less than a gift for them bringing them close to some of their childhood memories.

The most compassionate statement made by Jam Saheb, while welcoming these young Polish children to Nawanagar was, “Do not consider yourself orphans. You are now Nawnagaris and I am Bapu, father of all the people of Nawanagar, so also yours.”

 

THE SURVIVORS OF BALCHADI

The film is a rare glimpse into the lives of five of the “Survivors of Balachadi” as they proudly call themselves. Settled now in Warsaw (Poland), these aged survivors relate unique heart- warming stories of their “home” in Jamnagar and Balachadi under the umbrella of Bapu’s (father- as they fondly called Jam Saheb) love and compassionate protection where they spent four precious years (1942-46) of their childhoods and changed their lives forever – memories of which still bring smiles on their wrinkled faces and shine to their tired eyes.

I loved the doves and parrots. So many of them. I would feed them and sometimes we would have lip-to-lip feeding of “Jugara”. I would also feed small squirrels with milk by a dropper. In fact, I wish someone would bring me back my Indian bird cage…… Mr Zbigniew Bartosz (Polish Survivor).

 

 

 

“Initially I couldn’t swim… One day I jumped into the water in the sea in Balachadi and started splashing around. Spluttering a bit, I swam to the next bank. This was my first victory. Since then I had a feeling that I could swim. Since we used to go to the sea shore quite often, I had a lot of occasions to learn.” Mr Roman Gutowski ( Polish Survivor).

 

“When we arrived at the camp, the Maharaja gave a party but he did not know what we children liked to eat. Oh! The spicy Indian food, which despite being hungry, we didn’t like to eat at all. Bapu saw this & said don’t worry, I will fix this and he brought seven young cooks from Goa…. When we won(the football match), the Maharaja rose up from his arm chair, stood smiling & clapping, almost as if it mattered to him that the match had ended in a victory for these newcomers from a distant country, than from his own countrymen- Mr Wieslaw Stypula (Polish Survivor).

 

 

There were so many activities we were involved in Balachadi – but for me, scouting was like a dream come true. It was my dream to be a boy scout in Poland before the War, but I couldn’t because I was very weak and in a very poor health condition. But strangely I regained health in Kazakhstan and in Balachadi. So in Balachadi, I was healthy enough to involve myself in scouting.” Mr Jerzy Tomaszek (Polish Survivor).

 

“We never liked the spinach that was cooked in the camp, and so we decided to have a spinach strike. When Bapu heard of this, he immediately ordered cooks not to make spinach anymore.” Mrs Jadwiga Tomaszek (Polish Survivor).

“ I met Jadwiga in Balachadi camp. I loved her since the age of 15, but married her at the age of 78 years. We perhaps need to thank Maharaja Jam Saheb for our meeting.” Mr Jerzy Tomaszek married Mrs Jadwiga Tomaszek in 2008, at 78 years of age

“If not for the Maharaja, we would have been in trouble….. I still do not understand that inspite of being a true patriotic Polish, one part of soul still misses India and thus does not make me fully comfortable in Poland as I feel that India is still my home too,” Mr Jan Bielecki (Survivor, who passed away just few days before the shooting of this film).

 

JAM SAHEB`S CHILDREN ALSO REMEMBER

“Bapu told the Britishers – this is not state money but my money. I have adopted these children and I am paying from my personal account”- Princess Hershad Kumari, daughter of Jam Saheb

“Humanity is just one and people who divide humanity in caste, in religions and nationalities are really ruining the great gift which God has given us. And that is the man’s ability to lead a happy life” – H.E. Shatrushalya Sinhji, son of Jam Saheb.

THE LOCALS REMEMBER

Local resident Mr. Poona Bhai Madhvi with Mr. Stypula.

In a life spanning 80 years, many incidences happened but the only deep memory remains with us, and probably it is your memory of Balachadi – Dr Kirit Ashani, son of Dr Amrutlal Ashani (the doctor appointed by Jam Saheb for Polish children) speaks to Mr. Wieslaw Stypula. This place was called Roopanagri by us as all of you were very beautiful and “Roopa” means “beautiful.” – Poona Bhai Madhvi (his father had a shop in Balachadi)

THE CREATIVES

The film begins with the journey of the lead protagonist Mr Wieslaw Stypula, a Balachadi survivor, now 80 years old, who travels all the way from Warsaw to Jamnagar and Balachadi in Gujarat (India). He comes back to the land and the soil which is (as he states) “where I belong.” Back in Warsaw, other survivors relate the heart-warming stories of their childhoods spent in Balachadi.

Mr Zbigniew Bartosz, now 77 years of age, is a grandfather and lives with his wife and shares all memoirs and memorabilia on his love for Balachadi and the birds.

Mr Roman Gutowski, “young” at 77 years, lives in the beautiful countryside on the outskirts of Warsaw, cycles and plays tennis as “love for sports was initiated in Balachadi.”

Mr Jerzy and Mrs Yadwiga Tomaszek married at the “early age of 78 years” as love silently crept in their hearts in Balachadi way back in the 1940’s.

Mr Jan Bielecki, whose positivity amongst all the hardships is reflected in one statement “ I was a lucky person…” and one who loved all the local Gujarati snacks the producer of the film took to Warsaw…and the one who sang “Jai Hind” for the film research recordings…

This is a story of Love…that conquers all wars…. The story also shares memories of generations of Jamnagar and Balachadi locals, whose fathers and grandfathers are remembered very fondly by the “Survivors of Balachadi”… Dr. Anant “Johsie, the pharmacist’s” son, Nitin R. Joshi.

The most humbling memoirs are shared by Local resident Mr. Poona Bhai Madhvi with Mr. Stypula, the son of Jam Saheb, with the backdrop of the gradeur of Jam Saheb’s Palace.

 

A Little Poland in India – The film in English

“A Little Poland”  – Film in Hindi

‘A Little Poland in India’ is a first film that has been co-produced between the governments of India and Poland under the Audio-Visual agreement between both the countries. The film directed by Anu Radha and Sumit Osmand Shaw is the heart-warming story of an enriched historical bond between India and Poland.

The movie was created thanks to the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and co-produced by Doordarshan (National Broadcasting Network), Government of Gujarat and Polish National Audiovisual Institute (NIA) and Telewizja Polska TVP from Poland. The Expert Historian for the film are Dr. Andrzej Krzysztof Kunert, Secretary General of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites and Research Coordinators are Kresy-Siberia Foundation and Mr. Wieslaw.

 

About the film: ‘A Little Poland In India’

Duration of the film: 52 minutes

Courtesy : Embassy of Poland

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