War or peace, the Poles always celebrate Christmas; it may not be rich or merry, or with all the loved ones around – but the spirit is there even if the times are gloomy.
80 years ago Christmas holidays in a war-torn Europe were far from merry, yet there was a spark of hope that something will change for the better. These pictures were taken on 26 December 1942 during a time, when the tides of war were slowly turning in favour of the Allies.
The United States’ involvement in the invasion of French North Africa and the strategic bombing campaign against III Reich signified an increased engagement of this nation in the fight against Germans. A nation which soon will take the brunt of the fighting in Western Europe, contributing greatly to Hitler’s defeat. One of the most decisive battles of WW2 on the Eastern Front was nearing its end. The disaster suffered by the Germans in Stalingrad resulted in huge losses of manpower and territorial gains, shattering hopes of a quick victory over the Soviets, who steadily grew in strength. The Battle of the Atlantic was at its peak, but as the struggle progressed and new Allied countermeasures were applied, the German U-Boat menace would soon be brought under control.
Those events probably meant nothing to the children appearing in these photographs. They knew there was a war going on and as a result of which, they lost their country, occupied by the enemy. Some of them probably lost their parents or caretakers. What was then important was the moment, Christmas time, even though the festive season was not celebrated in Poland, but in exile, in London.
The images capture a Christmas meeting for the Polish children organized by The Polish Hearth – one of London’s oldest Polish Clubs, founded in 1939. Aside from children and probably their relatives or carers we can notice people representing the Polish government in exile.
In all but one picture, we can see Władysław Raczkiewicz, the President of Poland-in-exile. Eight days before these photographs were taken, he had written a letter to Pope Pius XII, asking him to intervene in defence of the Jews and Poles murdered by the Germans. At that time, the Polish authorities in exile were aware of the ongoing Holocaust thanks to the reports delivered by Jan Karski.
Another politician visible in one of the photos is Stanisław Mikołajczyk. At that time, he was the Deputy Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile and the Minister of the Interior. A year later, he will succeed the tragically deceased Władysław Sikorski as the Prime Minister.
Also worth noticing is the extraordinary guest at the gathering, Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja, Maharaja of Nawanagar. During WW2, he had a seat in the Imperial War Cabinet in London and represented India on the Pacific War Council. He was an advocate for Polish children evacuated with the Anders Army, who called him “the Good Maharaja”. Five months before these pictures were taken, he had established The Polish Children Camp providing shelter to 650 children.
Source: Institute of National Remembrance
Pictures: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe
Bez kategorii Polacy w UK