OPINION | 100 Years of Poland Independence: Commemorating Indo-Polish Relationship Forged During WW2
The story of Polish refugees in India and the ‘Good Maharaja’ (that is how Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhjii called in Poland) dates back to September 1, 1939, the beginning of the Second World War and invasion of Nazi Germany on Poland.
File photo of Polish ambassador to India Adam Burakowski
This autumn, Poland celebrated its centenary of regaining independence by commemorating the Indo-Polish Relationship in Jamnagar and Balachadi in Gujrat.
Nestled in the heart of Europe, Poland today is a vibrant democracy, boasting some of the highest economic growth rates in the region and one of the highest standards of living in the European Union.
Famous for art and culture, and home to personalities like Chopin and Marie Skłodowska-Curie, Poland has played a vital part in dismantling the Iron Curtain by fighting for its independence. With the efforts of Solidarity activists and Pope John Paul II, the nation ushered into a period when several other nations in central and Eastern Europe too, regained independence.
This spirit of independence can be best explained by poring over Poland’s history.
Ever since the adoption of Christianity by Mieszko I in 966, Poland has emerged as a strong and stable nation state. This stability is based on the principle of inclusion of all ethnicities and religions, and is rooted in the belief that this would serve as the foundation for Poland’s strength and resilience in the coming centuries.
Indeed, through the Statute of Kalisz issued in 1264, which guaranteed the rights and freedoms of Polish Jews, Poland became the first nation to enshrine the principles of tolerance and freedom from religious persecution to all its citizens. Poland’s commitment to religious freedom led to the large-scale emigration of Jews who faced persecution all over Europe.
From the days of splendor of the Jagiellonian dynasty, to the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Poland’s borders stretch from the Baltic coast in the northwest, Lithuania in the northeast, to as far southeast as Kiev, in modern day Ukraine.
The 16th century was a period of cultural magnificence in Poland, heralding artistic brilliance and creativity. Some of the jewels of Renaissance architecture were built during this period.
Other major works of this period include Copernicus’ treatise on heliocentrism – the first to correctly model our solar system, and the major epics of MikołajRej and Jan Kochanowski.
Over the following years, Poland continued to be in the vanguard of democratic ideals in Europe. In 1791, Poland adopted the Constitution of 3rd May, enshrining the rights and duties of the executive branches of government and its citizens.
Following the adoption of the U.S. constitution in 1787, this is the second-oldest constitution in the world, and the oldest in Europe.
The period after that was of great challenges for the Polish state. Poland was effectively partitioned by its neighbours, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires.
However, the resilience of its people, combined by their collective beliefs in the ideals of the Polish state continued to provide hope to its citizens during the difficult time.
Poland regained its independence in 1918 at the end of the First World War. On regaining its independence after over a century of partition, the Polish state was forced to defend its borders from the aggression of the Soviet Union in 1920. Following a stunning victory at the Battle of Warsaw under the command of one of Poland’s greatest statesmen, Marshal JózefPiłsudski, Poland was finally able to secure its eastern border.
In September, the country organized an event in Jamnagar and Balachadi to commemorate 100 years of regaining Independence and to celebrate the special Polish- Indian bond forged with the goodwill of Maharaja of Nawanagar (presently Jamnagar), Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji who gave orphaned Polish refugee children of WW2 shelter in his estate.
Jam Saheb arranged for their stay in camps in Balachadi, where they were not only given shelter and food but also provided education and an environment to keep their Polish culture and traditions alive. Jam Saheb was awarded the highest honour of President’s medal bythe Republic of Poland.
There were other refugee camps set up in India, the largest being the Polish refugee camps established in Valivade (Kolhapur) for about 5000 Polish women and children refugees from 1942-48.
The story of Polish refugees in India and the ‘Good Maharaja’ (that is how Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji is called in Poland) dates back to September 1, 1939, the beginning of the Second World War and invasion of Nazi Germany on Poland.
On September 17 the remaining territory of Poland was attacked by the Soviet Union. There was a massive crackdown on Polish citizens, with many of them forcibly made to resettle in remote areas of the Soviet Union. Some of them were released in 1942, but they were unable to return to their homeland.
With the support of Polish consulate in Bombay, Consul Eugeniusz Banasinski and his wife Kira, the ‘Good Maharaja’ allowed a group of 1000 Polish children refugees, to save their lives, childhood and hope for a better future.
In 2013, the story was beautifully captured in the first Indo-Polish Co-Production documentary film “ A Little Poland in India,” made by Ms Anu Radha of Aakaar Films.
Special guests from Poland included 80-90 year old Polish“survivors,” or children who lived in the camp.They revisited places which are important for Polish-Indian friendship and shared memories of their days spent together because of the compassionate gesture of Jam Saheb, whom they lovingly called Bapu (father).
The celebrations were graced by many local authorities, including Hon’ble Minister BhupendrasinhChudasama
(The author is the Polish ambassador to India. All views expressed are personal)
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