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Poland steps up to help Indian students fleeing Ukraine: Here is how decades ago, an Indian Maharaja had sheltered Polish children during WWII

Poland to this day is grateful to the Maharaja for his gesture. In Warsaw's Ochota, a park goes with an unusual name, “Skwer Dobrego Maharadzy” which means Square of the Good Maharaja.

In 1941, When World War II broke out, a large number of Polish people were packed and drawn as labour in Soviet Russia after the Red Army invaded Poland. When Germany attacked USSR and the British recognised Poland as a nation, some Polish refugees in Soviet Russia successfully fled to many parts of the world freeing from the Russian operation. During a long journey of thousands of kilometres in the warmer areas of the global south, many Polish children were left undernourished and dehydrated, while many of them lost their lives.

After being refused by many landlocked countries over the shelter, a flock of over a thousand children arrived in India through the passage of Iran and Afghanistan. This time too they were denied permission in Bombay by the then British Governor. Realising the brevity of the situation, The Polish Consulate in Bombay launched a public awareness campaign in India about the plight of Jewish refugees in Europe and started to work behind the scenes to arrange for these Polish orphans from Siberia to travel to India. A ray of rope came from the princely state of Nawnagar from where the Maharaja had heard the plight of Polish refugees. His conviction to help the refugees from Poland was such that he fought with the British Government and pressured them to allow him to grant refuge to the Polich children.

It was Maharaja Digvijaysinghji Ranjitsinghji Jadeja, a newly knighted ruler from the small state of Nawanagar in Gujarat who opened his doors and his heart to the unsettled Polish people. Soon arrangments were made for the refugees to board a ship that was landed in the Rosi port in his province. The flock of around a thousand Polish orphans between 2 to 17 years of age entered Navnagar and a camp for them was established at Balachadi. To many of the children who lost their parents in the World War, this Maharaja from Gujarat became their ‘Bapu’.

“You may have not have your parents, but I am your father now,” Maharaja Jadeja said while welcoming his new guests to his state. Soon, efforts were made to take care of their bare necessities and the Maharaja went ahead to take care that their Polish sensibilities were being preserved. When a group of children complained about the spicy Indian food which they were not accustomed to, Maharaja hired seven Polish chefs to cook for the children. Permanent dormitories were constructed for the children wherein they enjoyed their own space, food and medical care.

The Maharaja of Jamnagar with his adopted Polish children in Nawnagar. Image Credits: Wiki Commons

When Maharaja Digvijaysinghji realised that the education of these children had taken a toll with their exodus, Polish teachers at the camp taught the children in their native language. It is learnt that ‘Jam Sahib’ as he was affectionately called, transformed a large guest house at Balachadi into a full-blown school with benches and tables. While the efforts of Digvijaysinghji are a true epitome of the ancient Indian saying ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (World is a one-family), he paved was for a ‘little-Poland’ in Balachadi upon which a documentary film produced by the Polish embassy in India has been made by the same name.

Today, the legacy of Maharaja Jadeja is resonating on the brink of the Russia-Ukraine tussle, which is touted to be the prelude to a probable world war. When Indian students were stuck in crisis-hit Ukraine, the Polish administration allowed Indian nationals to enter their territory who were fleeing from war-torn Ukraine. While India has launched Operation Ganga to rescue Indian students from the neighbouring countries of Ukraine, visuals of Indians being taken care of by the Polish administration made their way to the media.

Much like the erstwhile Maharaja, this time, Indian children found their way in dormitories opened by Poland. Basic necessities like food, water and medicines were provided by the Polish administration for students. The embassy of Poland in India announced that Indian students are in safe hands until rescue operations are completed to the fullest.

Today, the humanitarian underpinnings of the relationship between in India and Poland are underlined by a quote by Mark Twain – “that History doesn’t repeat itself, but It often rhymes” When once interviewed by a Polish magazine, Jam Sahib said, “Maybe there, in the beautiful hills beside the seashore, the children will be able to recover their health and to forget the ordeal they went through. I sympathise with the Polish nation and its relentless struggle against oppression.”  

Skwer Dobrego Maharadzy or Square of the Good Maharaja in Warsaw, Poland

Poland has also announced that Indian students in Ukraine can cross the border into Poland without any visa and they will be helped.

Poland to this day is grateful to the Maharaja for his gesture. In Warsaw’s Ochota, a park goes with an unusual name, “Skwer Dobrego Maharadzy” which means Square of the Good Maharaja. They say geopolitical interests are always strategic, but it is often values and principles upheld in difficult times like these which pay the way for brotherhood among nations for years to come.

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