When Poland was caught between Adolf Hitlers Germany and Josef Stalins Russia during the Second World War, a stream of refugees made their way to Valivade village in Kolhapur district, 235 km from Pune.
Here, they tasted freedom after having endured the living hell of Soviet camps following their deportation by the dreaded NKVD or the Soviet secret police.
On Saturday, a commemorative pillar in memory of these Polish families and individuals who lived in Valivade between 1942 and 1948 will be unveiled by Deputy Foreign Minister of the Polish Republic Marcin Przydacz, Polish Ambassador to India Adam Burakowski and Guardian Minister of Kolhapur Chandrakant Patil, said Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament from Kolhapur, Chhatrapati Sambhaji Raje.
At a time when the world was torn apart by war, Europe was ravaged and parts of India were in the grip of a terrible famine, the Chhatrapatis of Kolhapur adopted these Polish families on humanitarian grounds. We want to keep this sentiment alive through the memorial and the museum, which will strengthen Indo-Polish ties, said Mr. Sambhaji Raje.
A permanent museum dedicated to the memory of the 5,000 Polish people who lived in the Valivade camp will come up within a year, he said.
A 29-member Polish delegation, which included those who had lived at the camp as well as their relatives, recalled their association with Kolhapur after 72 years during a tour of the historic Panhala fort. They reminisced, too, their journey to India through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan from the Soviet camps in Siberia and the Urals. They first reached Jamnagar in Gujarat, where the ruler, Jam Saheb Digvijayasinhji Jadeja, in a noble gesture, took the refugees under his wing. From there, some of the migrants proceeded to Kolhapur.
Wanda Nowicka was among those who stayed on in Valivade even after the others left. She married a local, Vasant Kashikar and bore five children. One of the early camps for the Polish migrants was set up up in Karachi in 1946, says Umesh Kashikar, one of the sons of the late Nowicka nee Kashikar. From there, some of them went to Jamnagar and then to Valiwade. It was here that our parents met and were united for life, said Mr. Kashikar, who works with a Mumbai-based cooperative bank.
Ludmila Jakutowicz, now in her eighties, came to the Valivade camp in 1943. I left in February 1948. My mother brought me a Kolhapuri bangle in Christmas of 1947 and I have never taken it off since then. After 72 years, this bangle is my fond memory of Kolhapur and India and of the ties that bind Poland and India, she said.
Poland was dismembered by the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Union pact or the Devils Alliance, with the cream of Polands officer corps, which included several members of the countrys intelligentsia, massacred by the NKVD in the Katyn Forest in 1940.
The refugees, who were deported and lodged in Stalins camps and finally made it to India, were the fortunate ones to flee Europes bloodlands after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. I was four years old when I was deported from Poland to the camps in the Soviet Union. India gave me my first fond memories, said Lancucka Labus, now nudging 80.
With the cooperation and affection of the citizens of Kolhapur, Valivade soon transformed into a mini Poland, with its own church, schools and even a cinema.
Today, several members of the delegation recalled their visits to the Panhala fort, their swim in the nearby river and the warmth of the people of Kolhapur.