What a WWII Polish Refugee Taught me About “Hindustan”.

World war 2 stories, World war 2 survivors, India in world war 2

It’s a lazy summer afternoon in Fleurieu Peninsula’s wine country of South Australia. Cycling along the trail of an old railway track, we are surrounded by lush vineyards stretching into the horizon. Every few kilometres, a family-owned winery lures us in, to taste some of the finest Shiraz in the world. We chat with the friendly wine makers, satisfy our hunger pangs at organic cafes, and make our way past signboards that ask us to watch out for kangaroos and koalas!

For our tired feet and drowsy minds, a cosy abode at Linger Longer Vineyard awaits us. We’ve whiled away our evenings here sipping wine on the patio, watching the sun set upon the vineyards at our doorstep. Just as we’re settling in that evening, our hosts invite us for a glass of wine in the main house. They have just returned from a 3-week vacation in India, and in all honesty, I feel a little guilty thinking of the extent of touting and chaos my land must’ve offered them while pristine beauty welcomed me to theirs.

Linger Longer vineyard, Willunga, Mclaren Vale
Sipping wine at Linger Longer Vineyard.

Rosemary pours us a glass of their in-house 2006 Shiraz, while Karol, her husband interrogates us about India, with a tough demeanour I can’t put my finger on. When I ask him, a little shyly, about his own trip, he describes the places he visited, mentioning names like Jamnagar and Kolhapur. I’m unable to fathom why anyone would travel there; the only reason I know of Jamnagar is because it lies enroute to Diu from Ahmedabad.

Before I get a chance to question him, he says everyone in India thought he was a foreigner in the country, and we must too. But, hum hain Hindustani, with a wistful longing he confesses, Jamnagar ka maharaja hamara bapu (I am Indian, the king of Jamnagar is my father). By the time we’re finishing our first glass, he has told us the most incredible story I might ever hear.

The year was 1940, the world was at war. Karol, then a child of six, was one among many Polish kids to be sent to a gulag (labor camp) in Siberia, in the southern Artic in Russia. Karol and his family managed to escape, but he got separated from his mother and siblings. Going back to Poland wasn’t an option, so he journeyed alone, walking and riding on trains and trucks, through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Persia, all the way to Gujarat in India. Jam Saheb, the then king of Nawanagar (now called Jamnagar), who later became the Indian ambassador to the UN, took him in, together with 500 other impoverished Polish children. He gave them shelter, food,  education in a fine school (St Mary’s in Mount Abu, complete with a Polish-speaking teacher), and a place to call home.

polish refugees India, Jam Saheb, Jamnagar Maharaja, Nawanagar Maharaja, World war 2 India
The Polish kids with Jam Saheb. Photo courtesy: Sainik School, Balachadi, Jamnagar.

I can hear Karol’s voice soften, as he tells us what Jam Saheb had told the kids when they arrived. Do not consider yourself orphans, he had said. You are now Nawnagaris and I am Bapu,  father of all the people of Nawanagar, so also yours.

For four years, from 1942 to 1946, 500 Polish kids lived in Balachadi in Jamnagar, under the personal protection of the Maharaja, when no other country was ready to take them. When the war ended, they were sent on a train to England, to start new lives. Karol remembers being on the train the night Gandhi was assassinated. It was in England that he would meet his wife Rosemary, and together they would move to Australia.

The Poles in India have been meeting every year since, swapping life stories and reminiscing about the time they spent in Jamnagar. Rosemary tells us they have all gone on to lead successful lives. She laments though, that the Polish kids are growing old, and this incredible story will soon be lost in time.

I often feel that there are many things we haven’t done right as a country. But in one magnanimous act of kindness, at a time when the rest of the world was on a killing spree, “Hindustan” gave 500 innocent kids a second chance at life.

And what are the odds that of all the vineyards in South Australia, we would find shelter at Karol’s and Rosemary’s?

World war 2 stories, World war 2 survivors, India in world war 2, Polish refugees in India
With Karol and Rosemary, in their house in Willunga.


I googled Karol’s story later and found a documentary called A Little Poland in India, that has documented the lives of some of the Poles in India. Also this story written on New York Times.


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  1. Deboshri Paul says:

    Evokes that feeling of transcendence … everything’s connected .. too huge to fathom..
    A fabulous write-up Shivya!

    1. Thanks Deboshri! And it absolutely evokes that feeling. I’m still overwhelmed.

    1. It really was, and I’m glad I found my way to it!

  2. Wow, what a beautiful story. That’s one of my favourite parts about travel; you never know who you will meet and what stories you will here. That must’ve been a wonderful experience for you to find that connection with your home country!

    1. I agree Harvey! It was indeed surreal to have landed up there, choosing from a whole list of vineyards to stay at 🙂 The universe works in strange ways.

  3. Roberto Amaral says:

    Amazing story! Proud to be Indian and to know what many people think of us and our country!

    1. Indeed Roberto 🙂 It’s not often that you come across such incredible stories!

  4. This is incredible! Heart warming stories of a bygone era. And I am sure, people did it with a sense of human spirit & not for votes / popularity

    1. That’s the best part, Sangeetha! It seems the Maharaja had to keep it very low key because it wouldn’t have been looked well upon by rest of the world.

  5. What a wonderful heart warming story! Inspite of all the evils of monarchy it had its positives. Specially in the hands of nobles like the king of jamnagar. Travelling is the best teacher. The most unexpected lessons pop up and if one can have wine while learning them, all the better! Have fun !

    1. Haha, I totally agree Sapna. The wine did make it all more fun 😉 And you’re right, not all of monarchy can be categorized together and judged.

  6. Pingback: What a WWII Polish Refugee Taught me About “Hindustan”. | The Talking Sloth - Asia
  7. Wow, that’s quite some story, and how fortuitous of you to have actually walked into this particular wineyard of all the wineyards in the region, and to have actually met Karol of all people and talked to him about his India story.

    1. I think about that everyday. And there really is no explanation than the universe conspiring to make it happen this way!

  8. Wow. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  9. One of my favourite posts so far ! Good one Shivya.

  10. Sarath Kumar says:

    great post.this is stupendous.thanks for sharing 🙂

  11. Such a beautiful, heart-warming story, Shivya! How tough the lives of those war children must have been.. I always feel that when I read about those times in books… We can never even begin to imagine the extent of pain in their lives. 🙁

    1. I agree! It’s hard to fathom their journey, and the feeling of being wanted after years of abandonment.

  12. Very sweet site! Just discovered it! Now I’m also finally following you on Twitter! Looking forward to connect!

    1. Couldn’t help sharing it, Kimi. The world must know!

  13. What an incredible tale! Reminds me of Schindler’s list! You’ve done complete justice to the story with your narration. And their story will live longer than they thought through your blog! Well done!

    1. I know what you mean, Mamta! I hope the story lives on 🙂

  14. Jim Smith says:

    I remember hearing this guy’s story back in Oz.. I can’t remember when exactly, but it was just mind blowing. What a great experience you have been honoured to be a part of Shivya. Absolutely amazing!

    1. Oh wow, do you remember who you heard it from? My mind is still blown from that encounter, Jim.

  15. Amazing story Shivya….These r the kind f experiences that make you wanna keep on travelling!!!

  16. Thanks for sharing Karol’s history Shivya. It was an almost unknown part of history until recently. We are all so impressed with the love and generosity shown by Jam Saheb and impressed with the warmth and vitality of the Indian people we met on our recent trip to your beautiful and amazing country

    Karol (one of the Polish kids) and Rosemary

  17. Nice story !!! Narrated greatly.. Thanks for sharing such a nice story!!!

  18. I’ve read this story of yours over and over… I think it’s my favourite in your entire blog <3

  19. The story is really great. You have enlightened us with so many facts about the Polish refugees which we were never aware of. I am sure travelling adds a lot of knowledge and is definitely a unique experience.

  20. Pingback: 20 Reasons Why South Australia Is the Trip of a Lifetime |
  21. Brought a lump to my throat. You write really well. More power to you 🙂

  22. suvasiniiyer says:

    Loved the story!!

  23. suvasiniiyer says:

    Phew, how did i miss this incredible story

  24. Great story and nice thing to learn. And it’s always good to know these little things we have done against all the odds. I am feeling a bit proud now 🙂 Definitely going to share this with some of my Polish friends. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  25. mahadeo kumar says:

    Worth sharing and reading . 1st time I knew abt this page and u , its kind of amazing feeling when u start with such story. Thanx for bringing this to me and others.

  26. Some acts of humanity, kindness and greatness are just lost in the dusty pages of history but thanks to people who hear them and share them with the world these dusty pages wont crumble away completely. What an incredible story!

  27. Sanjaye Savant says:

    Shivya….you are living an envious life….keep up the wild spirit !

  28. Alka Kaushik with whom I travelled to cover a car racing event in Agra as a photographer, who later invited me to be a part of her travel bloggers page on the Facebook, sent me this morning an article published in The Hindu. This is here I came to learn about Shivya and other two young women who took upto to travel the earth. Soon for these young people, the earth will become small and who knows they will venture on to cover the universe…..

    I followed Shivya on her blog ‘The Shooting Star’ and randomly picked this story. All I can say is ‘Cheers to you Shivya’ keep travelling and share with us your amazing stories…

  29. Just was going through various blogs, came across yours, just can’t resist living a footprint…..:)

  30. birendra kumar says:

    maam… I read about you and your work in a newspaper magazine josh plus by dainik jagran in sep 15 issue. I am a student of eng. I loved reading your posts. it was just amazing. And one another thing is that your eyes are like sparkling stars. it’s beautiful.

  31. Daniel S Mahanty says:

    My wife told me about your blog, and I must confess I find it fascinating. This story about the Polish children in India is indeed heartwarming.

  32. What a beautiful story ! Not only do you feel extremely proud of your country but this is exactly why I travel, to meet such people and discover such stories. What a beautiful experience for you !

  33. The story just reiterates the fact on why one should travel:) An interesting story narrated beautifully!

  34. Loved to hear the connection they had with our country and feel very proud of it. Importantly, very happy that you have brought it to many of us.

  35. What a wonderful story of human kindness and compassion. If only today’s refugees were welcomed as warmly as Karol was in this story. Indian hospitality really is second to none.

  36. It is amazing that you bumped into a Polish guy with a British wife living in Australia and talking about the greatness of the then Maharaja of a kingdom of India. Well, the odds were too low, weren’t they?

  37. Its brave of you to leave everything just to travel,explore and experience such things.Every time i read your stories, some part of me tells me to do same,or just to go somewhere.May be i will do
    someday.best wishes for upcomming adventures.

  38. A tale to re-instill faith in humanity! Thank you for sharing this story 🙂

  39. Mondakranta says:

    What a heart-warming story Shivya! Thank you for sharing it.

  40. Reblogged this and commented:
    This is the most incredible story that I have read in a long, long time. It makes me incredibly proud as an Indian that the Maharaja showed such an act of kindness, specially when we live in times where national borders divide the world in strictly controlled and regulated areas.

    This is certainly a story that world leaders should take a lesson from. Thank you for sharing! And Congratulations to be able to live out your dream. I wish I can be as bold as you are and travel the globe

  41. A beautiful story.. Thank you for sharing for this pice of history.

  42. An amazing and heart touching story! Somehow it made me feel proud of being a indian again!
    All the best!

  43. MAHMOOD SYED says:

    A travelogue nicely told. Thank you for sharing

  44. It’s incredible how a casual encounter in a vineyard in South Australia led to the revelation of such a significant yet lesser-known chapter of history.

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