Eighty years after the outbreak of World War II, when thousands of persecuted Polish refugees esaped to India and made Valivade village near Kolhapur their home, a memorial pillar will be unveiled here on September 14, officials said.
The commemoration post will be unveiled by Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz, in the presence of Poland’s Ambassador to India Adam Burakowski, President of Poles in India Andrzej Chendynski, Maharashtra’s Guardian Minister for Kolhapur Chandrakant Patil and Rajya Sabha MP Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, the 13th direct descendent of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Two delegations, one comprising Poles in India and another consisting of high-level business representatives, shall also be present on the occasion where some of the Polish people will share their fond childhood memories spent in this former royal state in Western Maharashtra.
During World War II, around 1,000 Polish children from the war-ravaged and occupied Poland and Soviet concentration camps in Siberia managed to travel to India and reach Gujarat’s Jamnagar kingdom in 1942.
Most reached India via the land or sea routes — in trucks from Ashkhabad in the erstwhile USSR, travelling via Afghanistan — and others by the sea routes along with two major evacuations of Polish Army from USSR to Iran through the Caspian Sea in March and August, 1942.
The then ruler of Jamnagar, Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja (1895-1966), took them under his fold even as the world fought a war and India battled for its Independence from Britain.
He built camps for them at Balachadi, near his summer palace around 25 km on the outskirts of Jamnagar, to make them feel at home, and this small gesture later saw thousands of Polish refugees coming to India and being welcomed in other countries in the world as well.
Besides the 1,000 Polish children in Balachadi, around 5,000 Poles settled in Valivade in the late 1940s, which symbolised a typical, independent Polish town, and became the single biggest Polish settlement in India.
Valivade had its own administration with all amenities like a church and community centre, five primary schools, a general and a commercial high school, a humanities college and a teaching college, post office, cinema, theatre, a cooperative setup called Zgoda, fixed-price market and a cemetery.
After the WW-II when the situation normalised, a majority of those children returned to Poland while others moved to different countries globally. However, many now in their 90s or more, keep coming back to Valivade and Jamnagar to relive the memories of the years they spent here.
Grateful for Indian hospitality during their hour of need, the Association of Poles in India erected an obelisk at the Mahavir Garden Park in Kolhapur with an eagle at the top.
Later in 2011, Poland posthumously conferred the “Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Polish Republic” on Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji R. Jadeja and named at least six public and private schools in Warsaw after him.
A prominent square in Warsaw’s Ochota district is dedicated as “The Square of the Good Maharaja — Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji” with a statue erected in his memory in 2013.
The Maharaja’s contributions were immortalised in an Indo-Polish co-production film, “A Little Poland In India” (2013), depicting him as the lone crusader who safeguarded the lives and future of thousands of orphaned Polish children who sought refuge during the dark days of WW-II.