A local Tram in Poland’s Wrocław city is all set to showcase the legacy of two British-era Indian Maharajas who are known to have helped Polish children by giving them refuge during World War II. The Polish administration has decided to name a tram in the Wrocław city after Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Jadeja of Jamnagar and Rajarshi Shahi Maharaj of the Kolhapur Princely state who gave refuge during WW2 to a large number of Polish children in the war-torn 1940s.
India in Poland begins #AmritMahotsav celebrations! Amb Nagma Mallick with @SutrykJacek , Mayor Wroclaw inaugurated the #IndiaAt75 Tram-‘Dobry Maharaja’ named after the Maharajas of Jamnagar & Kolhapur who gave refuge during WW2 to over 6000 Polish, Wrocław, 31 May. #AKAM pic.twitter.com/YKGxa062pk— India in Poland and Lithuania (@IndiainPoland) June 1, 2022
On Tuesday, May 31, the Indian Ambassador for Poland and Lithuania Nagma Mallick jointly with Wroclaw Mayor Jacek Sutryk inaugurated the tram dedicated to India’s 75 years of Independence. The Tram is interestingly named ‘Dobry Maharaja’ (Good Maharajas) recognising the work of Maharajas of Jamnagar & Kolhapur – a story much underlined while recalling the cultural and diplomatic ties between India and Poland.
On the tram, Grafitti symbolizing Indian culture and artistic motifs is drawn to mark the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.
The story of Polish refugees in India
When Germany invaded Poland that started the Word War II, around a thousand Polish women and children were put on a ship to them from the Germans. Some of them were from Poland and the others were from prison camps in Soviet Russia who were released due to the changed political equation because of the war.
The Polish authorities had left the ship in the sea, ordering the captain to dock in any country that agrees to shelter them. The ship tried to take refuge at several European and Asian countries, but all of them refused to let them enter. Therefore, the ship continued to sail and reached as far as Iran and stopped at a port there, but there also they were denied shelter.
After that, the ship continued eastwards, and reached India and docked at Bombay port. However, the British governor also refused to let the refugees disembark from the ship. The Polish Consulate in Bombay launched a public awareness campaign in India to save the women and children onboard the ship.
However, a ray of hope came from Maharaja Digvijaysinghji Ranjitsinghji Jadeja, the ruler of the princely state of Nawanagar in Gujarat who opened his doors and his heart to the unsettled Polish people. The Maharaja invited Polish orphans between 2 to 17 years of age, along with the women, to his hometown and took take care of their bare necessities. The Maharaja went ahead to take care that their Polish sensibilities were being preserved and even constructed Permanent dormitories for the children to enjoy their own space, food and medical care.
Poland to this day is grateful to the Maharaja Jadeja for his gesture. In Warsaw’s Ochota, a park goes with an unusual name, “Skwer Dobrego Maharadzy” which means Square of the Good Maharaja.
Similar to Maharaja of Navnagar’s efforts, the Chhatrapati of Kolhapur too, stepped in to help the Polish immigrants in India. These Polish nationals were deported from Poland to Russia after the German invasion, and from Russia, they had reached India.
The Polish refugees were housed in labour camps run by Red Army in Siberia, and they were living in very harsh condition in cold Siberia. However, when Germany attacked Soviet Russia too, the country became involved in the war, and as now they were on the same side as Poland, they let a large number of Polish people to leave the Siberian gulags. Taking this opportunity, the Poles had moved towards warmer Southern countries, and around 5000 of them had reached India, who were sheltered by Chhatrapati of Kolhapur.
A camp for Polish Immigrants was also set up in Valivade village near Kolhapur. It housed about 5,000 Polish refugees during the World War II between 1943-1947. Soon, the settlement in Valivade became like a Polish town. According to British records, the town had its own church, a community centre, elementary grade schools and a high school and even a post office of its own.
Chhatrapati Shahaji – II of the Kolhapur princely state with help of the British administration made sure that all the needs of the Polish people are met. Thus, the two erstwhile Maharajas have played a huge role in shaping the history of India-Poland relations. The Polish nations remember their contributions to this date, where they are fondly remembered as the ‘Good Maharajas’.