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The Indian King Who Saved 1000 Polish Children in World War II

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Ravi loves writing within the cusp of relationships, history, and the bizarre, where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja is called the ‘Indian Oskar Schindler’ for his selfless act of saving 1,000 Polish children during WWII.

Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja is called the ‘Indian Oskar Schindler’ for his selfless act of saving 1,000 Polish children during WWII.

A Little-Known Act of Kindness

“It was our little Poland in India. We will be forever grateful, says Wieslaw Stypula, an 88-year-old Polish survivor of World War II, fondly remembering his time in India where, as an orphan, he was able to have a proper childhood after fleeing from war-torn Poland.

In contrast, when we talk about World War II, usually only heart-wrenching episodes of destruction, barbarity, and suffering come to mind. Yes, the fact that it was a cruel war cannot be overstated. But in the midst of all the devastation, there were small, little acts of kindness that changed people’s lives and are still remembered more than 75 years after the war.

And one such act of kindness unfolded in 1942 in India, which brought two communities, Indians and Jews, together to witness a hidden, unknown chapter in history that was lovingly called the ‘Little Poland in India.’

It all started with an Indian man named Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja, also known as ‘Jam Sahib,’ who helped save the lives of 1,000 Polish children looking for refuge after fleeing Poland.

As the children disembarked from the ship and reached the Maharaja’s Nawanagar City (currently part of Gujarat state, India), he welcomed them with open arms and simply said.

“Do not consider yourself orphans. I am the father of all the people of Nawanagar, so also yours.”

World War 2 devastated Poland, leaving thousands of children orphaned within the country.

World War 2 devastated Poland, leaving thousands of children orphaned within the country.

The Story of Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja

Not many realize that Poland is one of those unfortunate countries that was invaded by the cruel regimes of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II. The dual invasion was part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed between the two powers to partition Poland.

Sixteen days after Hitler attacked the western border, the Red Army launched an eastern offensive. The combined attack devastated the country, leaving thousands of children orphaned. These orphans were then forcefully relocated to miserable orphanages within the Soviet Union where many died of illness, malnutrition, and starvation.

It was under these circumstances that amnesty was finally offered by the Soviets in 1941, allowing the orphans to travel to other countries to seek refuge. As the ships carrying the orphaned children left the Soviet Union, they were denied entry in most of the ports while sailing through Iran to Bombay (Mumbai). Times were bad and no country wanted to take responsibility.

As the ship entered Mumbai, the plight of the children reached the ears of Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja, the king of the princely state of Nawanagar. The British in India were not interested in taking the children but the Maharaja intervened and volunteered to provide the children with a home in his town, against British will.

The kind ruler then proceeded to use his own personal money to build the Balachadi camp for the children about 25 km (15 miles) from the city of Jamnagar. The camp had more than 60 buildings, including a chapel, laundry rooms, a stage to hold Polish cultural programmes, a community center to hold Saturday evening dances for growing adults, and sports grounds.

The children were provided with food, clothing, and medical care. A special library was set up with Polish books so that they could keep in touch with their culture. The King even brought cooks from Goa so that ‘similar’ Polish food could be provided to them.

The children also played football, volleyball, hockey, and even went camping. The Maharaja also converted his palace into a school so that education could be provided to the children. The children stayed for 4 years till 1946 and they were the best childhood years they ever had.

When the war ended, the orphans had to return to Europe. Today the survivors still recollect the Maharaja’s personal send-off at the Jamnagar railway station and the tearful farewell between the king and the children that remains unforgotten to this day.

Poland has not forgotten the generous Maharaja who is still remembered today.

Poland has not forgotten the generous Maharaja who is still remembered today.

Poland Still Remembers the Kindness

Poland has not forgotten the generous Maharaja who is still remembered today.

He was posthumously awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit by the Polish President. Poland has also named the Maharaja the Honorary Patron of the popular Warsaw Bednarska High School. In 2013, the Government of Poland inaugurated the ‘Good Maharaja Square’ in Warsaw.

Yes, some people still argue that the Maharaja had the resources to be generous. But one should never forget that he did all this at a time when the world was at war, India was in severe famine and drought, and the colonial British government was against his decision. It was one man’s generosity that changed the destiny of a thousand people.

They say, kindness never goes out of fashion and this is one example of a kind act being remembered 75 years after the brutal war.

“It was our little Poland in India. We will be forever grateful,” says Wieslaw Stypula, a Polish survivor,

“It was our little Poland in India. We will be forever grateful,” says Wieslaw Stypula, a Polish survivor,

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Ravi Rajan

Comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 05, 2021:

Thanks Vidya for your comments.

VIDYA D SAGAR on October 05, 2021:

A very touching story Ravi. How wonderful of King Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja to save the Polish children. Such stories in history, of acts of kindness are very inspiring and should be made know to all. Thanks for sharing

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 05, 2021:

Thanks John for your comments.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 05, 2021:

Ravi, I was sure I left a comment on this but it hasn't appeared so maybe I didn't post it. I loved reading this story. Everyone should know about this Indian king and his kindness and generosity.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 04, 2021:

Thanks Brenda

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on October 04, 2021:

Ravi

What a wonderful story.

I didn't know this area was in the midst of a war.

I imagine those children were quite grateful, but I doubt they wanted to return to their homeland after 4 yrs.

Great write.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 04, 2021:

Thanks Peggy for your comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 04, 2021:

Thanks for sharing this story of that kind individual who helped so many Polish Children who survived the war, but essentially were homeless. It is a heartwarming story!

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 04, 2021:

Thanks Chitrangada for your comments.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 04, 2021:

Thanks Liz for your comments. I had briefly heard about Nicholas Winton. I will surely read your article to know more about him.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 04, 2021:

Great informative article about Maharaja Digvijay Singh ji Jadeja. What a wonderful act of kindness by him! Good of you to share this beautiful part of history with the readers.

Thank you and good wishes for a great week ahead.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 04, 2021:

I had not heard of this before. In the midst of so much hardship, it is heartwarming to read of an act of great kindness. Another person who comes to mind is Nicholas Winton who rescued Jewish children from Czechoslovakia. I refer to him in my article about Prague New Town.

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