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Polish Museum in Howick, Auckland, New Zealand


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Honorary Consul's Tale of Survival

John Roy is a living example of endurance and survival.

The Honorary Polish Consul for New Zealand and retired businessman was born Jan Wojciechowski in Poland.

He was six when Russians Stalin invaded his homeland.

John and his parents, his brother and three sisters were farming land in the east of Poland at the time.

On February 10, 1940, the family and nearly 250,000 other people from eastern Poland were sent to slave labour camps in Siberia and the Arctic Circle.

But before the family left, John's father was taken away. They later found out he had been shot.

The family spent 18 months in Siberia where they were put to work clearing the forest. In 1941 the family was allowed to leave the camp and was sent to Iran.

There John's mother became ill with tuberculosis and died in hospital.

John and two of his sisters were shipped to New Zealand in 1944, leaving one sister behind in Iran and their brother in the air force.

They arrived in Wellington along with New Zealand soldiers returning from the Middle East and about 800 other refugee children.

"We were given ice cream and comics to read and all these things we'd never had," Mr Roy says.

He clearly remembers reaching his new homeland. "My first impression of Wellington harbour was all the little houses on top of the hills with red roofs," he says.

The children were sent to a Wairarapa camp, known as "Little Poland".

They stayed there for two years. The young refugees were granted permanent residency and taught how to speak English. Mr Roy was then sent to boarding school at St Patrick's College, in Silverstream.

He came to Howick 36 years ago. Mr Roy, who is married with six children, is now deeply involved in promoting Poland here. He formed the Polish Heritage Trust to teach New Zealanders about Polish history and wrote a book about his early life.

Mr. Roy recently set up a Polish museum on Elliot St. as part of his promotional work.

"It gives people of Polish origin a place to put their mementoes if they want to," he says.

He is gathering items of interest, including books from a Polish soldier who fought at Monte Cassino.

He plans to give presentations about Polish history and literature to schools in the area, he says.

Museum a Tribute to Polish History

John Roy was only six when Stalin's armies invaded his Polish homeland.

The boy and his family were sent to a Siberian labour camp where they lived in horrific conditions. One in 10 people died on the six-week train journey to the camp in 1940.

But in 1944, young John came to New Zealand along with 800 other Polish refugee children.

Today, Mr. Roy lives in Howick, where he has set up a museum to teach New Zealanders about Polish history.

The museum is filled with books, costumes and Polish relics. It will be open to the public and can be used by schools as an educational resource.

To contact the museum, phone: 533-3530.

Polish story: John Roy wants others to learn about his Polish homeland through a new museum in Howick.

john roy in museum

Tale to tell: John Roy, formerly Jan Wojciechowski, has told the story of his early life in his book 'A Strange Outcome'.

books in museum

Foreign land: Costumes, books and relics fill the museum set up in honour of the history, tradition and culture of Poland.

manequin in polish costume

 interview for Eastern Courier, Auckland, 28. 5. 2004; 
CATHERINE MYHRE ©Photos: JASON DORDAY