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When an Indian king offered shelter to 1,000 Polish orphans

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

When the horrors of the Second world war left thousands of Polish children orphaned in 1942, Jam Saheb Maharaja of Nawanagar, a princely state in Gujarat, welcomed them with warmth and offered them shelter.

He built a camp near the Balachadi seaside estate, where the children not only regained their physical strength, but also rediscovered their lost childhoods. To document this lesser known story of benevolence, Polish director Tomas Stankiewicz is making a documentary that offers to tell the extraordinary story of the Second World War children refugee camp in Gujarat.

Titled, "Brave Brunch in India", the story is being told through the perspective of two children -- an 11-year-old Polish boy and the nine-year-old daughter of the Maharaja. The narrative is based on the first-hand accounts of an 80-year-old Polish man, who was around 17 when he spent his days in the Maharaja's camp.

"This was in the middle of the war. The children who came to India recovered from whatever they went through in Russia. There was a school for them, they sang and danced and were given full freedom to practise their own religion," Monika Kowaleczko- Szumowska, one of the producers of the film, said.

Szumowska added that building the film around a single person's narrative ensured it was short yet impactful. The creators have decided to make the film in an online interactive format. "We want children to use it as an educational tool," she said.

The production also takes into account the period after the war was over, and the children had grown up. In 1945, when Poland was on its way to become a communist country controlled by the Soviets, the country wanted its children to be sent back. But, many of them were unwilling to leave India. So, the Maharaja decided to adopt them.

"The children stayed in India for five years. Whosover was under 18 at that time was adopted by the Maharaja, a polish priest and a British officer. They adopted nearly 200 kids," Szumowska said.

The documentary takes from an earlier film "BraveBunch: The Uprising through Children's Eyes", which was about the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. It talked about the 63-day-long heroic struggle to liberate Warsaw, the Polish capital, from Nazi Germany occupation during the Second World War.

"Brave Brunch in India" is scheduled to be launched in October 2018. The project will also include a book, which is expected to be translated in Hindi and other regional languages.

Szumowska said it was one of the greatest stories of that time as it cemented warm relations between Europeans and Indians. "It is an important event of the history because a lot of Europeans needed help and India extended them support. It showcases the beautiful character and spirit of the people here.

But unfortunately it was kept as a secret in Poland due to communism. And when we came to India we realised it was not well known here either. I think it is important to talk about it at least now," she said.

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