I've recently noticed that there is a very large Polish community here in Australia, much larger than I had previously thought. I would be interested to find out the cisrcumstances under which so many Poles have ended up in Australia throughout recent history. I assume the majority would have derived from refugees in the immediate post-war period, such as the case of my maternal great-grandparents. My G/Grandfather was a rifleman in the 37th Infantry regiment based at Kutno, participating in the 'Battle of Bzura' he was taken prisoner on 18 Sep '39 and incarcerated in Germany. My G/Grandmother lived in the province of Polesie, part of the Eastern territory that was incorporated into the Belarussian and Ukrainian Soviet republics as of September '39. She became an 'Ostarbeiter' in '43 and was sent to Germany. Both met at a farm in Handewitt run by a Danish-German officer by the name of M Clausen, as 'Compelled workers', though they say they were treated very well. They married under German law in Flensburg as soon as the war ended, so that my G/Grandmother would not be repatriated back to the USSR, as she was part of the Ukrainian minority. They applied for political asylum in the British sector of Germany, where my G/Grandfather served as a Watchman in the CMLO until they and their two surviving children were cleared for emigration to Australia in 1950. My G/Grandmother remained here for the rest of her life and never saw or heard from her family again after the events of 1943, though my G/Grandfather discovered the location of his surviving siblings and mother, returning to Poland for the first time in the mid 70s. Sadly his mother passed away just a few days prior to his arrival. A few years ago I was able to contact descendants of my G/Grandfathers' brother and have kept in regular contact, they even came to visit not too long ago. If anybody has a similar story within their family, I would love to hear it.
Polish emigration to Australia have always fascinated me. It's so distant country, and the first Poles get there in the 18th century already. The journey lasted 8 months at that time. But the biggest influx of people from Poland to Australia took place just after the WW2 - about 50.000 people and during the period of martial law in Poland, which was in 1981 - about 10.000 Polish emigrants arrived in Australian land.
I am also interested in further stories how Poles got to Australia and managed to live there on a completely foreign land, so distant from their own country.
My family migrated to Australia from Poland some years after WW2. My grandmother lived to be 98 years old and every day she told me "you are lucky to be living in Australia, I kiss the ground every day" - of course she meant she appreciated the safety and financial security that Australia gave her, she never actually "kissed the ground"! My grandparents ran for their lives to Russia during the war, literally travelling on foot (my grandmother pregnant at the time), hiding in forests and generally trying to survive. They endured starvation and severe illness whilst just trying to stay alive long enough to get to Russia, so you can see why my grandmother sincerely appreciated the security of Australia.
It was really hard for my grandparents with no English speaking ability and a young family - 2 of which had been born during harsh war times, one of her children with brain deformities due to the starvation endured during pregnancy. The fact Australia was so far away from Poland is what attracted my grandmother. She no longer felt safe in Poland and believed that her horrible experiences would happen again - not just in Poland but throughout Europe. She was offered migration to America as well as Australia but remembered that their soldiers fought in Europe too, so she worried that her male children and husband would end up fighting in another world war.
She never learned English at a school or college in Australia, she practised at home with her children who attended school in Australia and learnt from other Polish immigrants she met. She struggled, she was embarrassed that she couldn't communicate, people thought lowly of her and she felt very very lonely. My grandfather refused to learn English, it was too hard for him and he kept expecting my grandmother to be the translater when he spoke to others, even though she could only say a few sentences in English - it was a different time, husbands mistreated wives and they were expected to put up with it. She was a caterer in Poland and worked for 2 catering companies at the same time in Australia who highly valued her skill and knowledge, as well as doing her own catering on the side for private events. Her food was fantastic and I remember watching her prepare food for hundreds at weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties. She catered her last wedding at age 80 and decided it was time to retire. That sort of work ethic doesn't exist anymore, she was one of a kind. Even in her retirement she used to attend aged care homes a few times a week, bringing them food she had made or catering sized birthday cakes for the local aged population. At around 93 she slowed down a lot, couldn't make food on the grand scale she used to and when she stopped visiting the aged care homes, the nurses from those homes used to call worrying about her - she still made birthday cakes for everyone though and had us deliver them!! She stayed living in her house right until her passing, the house that she worked 3 jobs at the same time in Australia to buy, pay off and grow her family in.
She dearly missed the few who survived in her family that stayed in Poland, she used to send them money all the time. She flew to Poland only a few times during her life in Australia but she always came back wistful and sad. I think it was bittersweet - missing her family and not being a part of their lives, also remembering every single horrific gunshot, bullet hole and total destruction. She tried to convince family members to visit Australia, she offered to pay for their airfare but the feeling was always that it was just too long a journey so they never did. I am proud to be "Australian Polish", I am grateful to my grandmother for making the difficult 3 month ship journey to the other side of the world to start a new life. She arrived with just one suitcase, AUD$80 and the clothes on her back, her husband and children also just one suitcase and the clothes they were wearing. Her life changing decision ensured her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and every generation thereafter get to be raised in a safe country, with so many opportunities, freedom and a damn good life. None of her other grandchildren or great-grandchildren actually appreciate her sacrifice, that's terribly sad. So I stand proud, proud for all she did for us and for giving me the gift of being "Australian Polish".
I think it was bittersweet
I feel the same way for my parents, so many hard stories so much suffering, but yet we kids move forward never forgetting those who lived through harder times, your post touched me, thank you.