WW II and How India Helped Polish Refugees of the War



In the face of the Russia-Ukraine conflict that began earlier this year and still continues today, India is continually questioned about its intentions and the world constantly wonders if the Indian government is supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There are plenty of people who have countered the attack, including Mr. S. Jaishankar, the Minister of External Affairs in India. 

But a lot of people in the western part of the world may not know that India was once instrumental in helping the refugees in Poland, one of the most badly affected countries, when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, during the Second World War (WW II), while the western countries ran headlong to join in battles against their opponents. 

How did India come to help Poland? It’s not like they are neighboring countries! So, how did the Polish end up in India? Read on to find out! 

The Second World War (WW II)

There is a reason why the war that occurred between 1939 and 1945 is called a world war—because, although the main battlefields were in Europe, there were several side battles that occurred on various battlefields of Asia and Africa, and in the isles of the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. Even South America contributed to the war by sending its human and other resources. 

Now, why did the Second World War happen? 

War can occur either due to the urge to control or the urge for revenge. The Second World War involved every country on the globe—everybody was fighting everybody! Even the European colonies in Asia and Africa were forced to send their forces to the war. It was a time when India was under the colonial rule of the European power, Britain. 

The Second World War began as a result of the restrictive measures put on Germany, the losing side of the World War I. Adolf Hitler was then the Chancellor of Germany who started the war by leading an invasion of Poland from the west. His ultimate goal was to conquer the Soviet Union (USSR), something Napoleon Bonaparte tried decades before him and lost terribly. Hitler, on the other hand, meant to succeed. 17 days later, Stalin led another invasion of Poland from the east. This was according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and USSR. 

A lot of Polish were displaced from their homeland and deported to Russia, mainly the camps in Siberia, Arctic Russia, and Kazakhstan. 

Some WW II Vital Information:

When did Germany invade Poland?

A. Germany invaded Poland from 1 September 1939 to 6 October 1939.

When did WW II end?

A. The Second World War (WW II) ended in 1945.

Were Germany and Russia enemies during WW II?

A. Till 1942, Germany and Russia had signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that made them allies and prevented them from opposing each other. However, Hitler broke this very pact in 1943, at which point, Stalin immediately decided to join Germany’s enemies.

When did the Germans Turn Against the Soviets?

However, in 1943, Hitler broke the pact when he moved on to invade USSR! 

USSR had to change its strategy now and had to side with the Allies, who pressured its government to release the Polish prisoners and form a Polish Army to aid them during the war. USSR complied. 

Now, the Polish refugees couldn’t go back to their war-torn home at a time when things could escalate. They had to be sent elsewhere. 

One of the first countries that extended its arms to the Polish homeless was India, specifically Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja of Nawanagar (ruled from 1933-1966). 

A Maharaja Adopts 1000 Children

He took the initiative and, along with Polish envoys in India, the husband-and-wife duo of Eugeniusz Banasiński and Kira Banasińska, let in thousands of orphans who either lost their families or their parents had gone missing, if not joined the war alongside the USSR. They organized camps in Jamnagar and Kolhapur. Gradually, as the Polish became familiar and comfortable with India, a little Poland in India emerged, complete with culture and flags! A Polish in India community was formed. 

In 1942, Maharaja Digvijaysinhji established the Polish Children’s Camp in the Jamnagar-Balachandi area of the present-day state of Gujarat; it was here that the Polish orphans and other refugees were gathered and given shelter, clothing, food, and other basic necessities. They remained here until 1945, when the camp was closed and they were transferred to Valivade in the present-day state of Maharashtra, then called Kolhapur. 

Memories from Polish Refugees

If not for books like “My Sister’s Mother” by Donna Urbikas, “Heart of Europe” by Norman Davies, and “The Second Homeland” by Anuradha Bhattacharjee; this major event in World History would have gone obscured and untold. The former and the refugees who settled here work hard, too, to spread the word of how Maharaja Jam Saheb saved their lives and gave them a home away from home at the time when they needed it the most. 

One of the child refugees, Wiesław Stypuła, has quoted the Maharaja in an interview thus: “Please tell the children that they are no longer orphans because I am their father.” 

For a lot of Polish refugees in Jamnagar, coming to India gave some peace and stability, despite the Indian independence movement being at its peak. They played with the other Indian children, got an education, and basically had their lives normalized. They grew up in relative happiness; some of them left to settle in the US, the UK, and Canada, while very few went back to Poland. 

On 6th July 2022, in remembrance of how India helped Poland, the Polish Government in Warsaw has honored Maharaja Digvijsinhji posthumously for all his help and efforts during wartime and a delegation from India has been sent, that included Yuvraj Sambhaji Raje and Sanyogitaraje Chhatrapati of Kolhapur and representatives of Jamnagar royalty, led by the President of Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe. In Warsaw, decades after the end of the Second World War, the Polish government had established a school in tribute to the maharaja called the Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji School. 

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History of German Invasion of Poland:

  • There was a pact that maintained that if Poland was ever attacked, then France and England would come to its aid. Italy and Japan had signed a similar treaty with Germany. 
  • The Treaty of Versailles that ended the First World War left Germany heavily burdened and dissatisfied: it lost a majority of its resources and territories, making it small and helpless. 
  • When Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he began to get back all the territories and the resources the country lost and began to regain Germany’s power in the world. The League of Nations and the European powers sat back and watched, doing nothing. The USA had, at this time, no interest in European affairs. 
  • Hitler removed Germany from the League of Nations. 
  • Germany, in a bid to reach Soviet Russia, invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. 
  • It was a surprise attack, launched without a warning. Hence, Poland, as did the rest of the world, reacted late to defend itself. 
  • The Polish army equipment wasn’t as modernized as the German’s was, which also delayed its defense. 
  • Due to the tripartite pact between Poland, England, and France, the latter gave Germany repeated warnings to withdraw. When it didn’t, they declared war on it. And in their turn, Japan and Italy too mobilized against the two European powers. Thus, began the Second World War. 

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