Polish Children's Home, Oudtshoorn, South Africa 1942-47
By Robert Weiss, Palo Alto, California
Copyright © 1997-1998: Text by Robert Weiss, web presence by FEEFHS, all rights reserved
This is the text of a lecture given by Robert Weiss at the FEEFHS Convention, Salt Lake City in September 1997.
The following is a roster of the 500 Polish children who were removed from Poland and sent to an orphanage in the Union of South Africa, where they remained until after the conclusion of the Second World War. There is great interest on the part of Holocaust survivors in determining their origins, especially difficult task when information on their parents or their place of origin is unknown. I hope the publication of this list may help in their search.
On 17 September 1939, two weeks after the German invasion of Poland, Soviet troops swiftly occupied the eastern half of Poland and, after a plebiscite, annexed the area to the Ukraine and Belorussia. Beginning in the winter of 1939-40 Soviet authorities deported over a million Poles, many of them children, to the various provinces in the Soviet Union. Almost one third of the deportees were Jewish.
For a description of the life of the deportees during this period the reader is referred to the Hoover Archival Documentary War Through Children's Eyes, a collection of essays written by the children like the subjects of this paper.
In the summer of 1941 the Polish government in exile in London received permission from the Soviet Union to release several hundred thousand former Polish citizens from labor camps, prisons and forcible resettlement in the Soviet Union, to organize military units among the Polish deportees, and later to transfer Polish civilians to camps in the British-controlled Middle East and Africa. There the Polish children were able to attend Polish schools.
In 1942, the London government, acting through their Consul General Dr. Mi. Stanislaw Lepkowski, secured permission from the government of the Union of South Africa to transport 500 of the estimated 220-250,000 children to that country. In 1943, after they had been evacuated through the southern Soviet republics to Iran, the children were brought to South Africa.
The Polish Children's Home (Dom Polskich Dzieci) was organized in Oudtshoorn for their temporary accommodation, care and education. Under the supervision of the South African Department of Social Welfare, as well as Polish consular and ministry representatives, it remained in operation until 1947.
The archives of the Polish Children's Home at Oudtshoorn were sent to Dr. Lepkowski in Pretoria in 1947. They eventually came into the possession of Mr. Tadeusz Kawalec, a former Polish consular official who had participated in the work of the Home, and were donated by him to the Hoover Institution in 1975. The records are found in the Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford, California in a file entitled Dom Polskich Dzieci (Polish Children's Home), Oudtshoorn, Union of South Africa. The file, accession number 75068-8.21, contained in two boxes, comprises a chronological file of the correspondence of the Office of the Director of the Polish Children's Home from 1942-1947, and a subject file for the same period arranged alphabetically by subject.
The children described in these files were either orphaned or were deported from Poland to the USSR. The files contain many lists pertaining to the 500 children at the orphanage, their place of origin, parents names, father's occupations, and then-current location of still-living parents. Lists also exist pertaining to the adults who visited the orphanage, the presumption being that they were relatives of one or more of the children, to the people whom the children visited when on holiday and to courses taken by the children. Finally, there are lists indicating where the children were sent in 1944-5, when the orphanage was disbanded.
The original list in the file is dated September 1943, and lists the 500 students with vital statistics on each one, including the following.
- Family Name
- Given Name
- Date of Birth
- Place of Birth (City and District)
- Residence in Poland (City and District)
- Father's and Mother's Names
- Father's Occupation
- Father's and Mother's Current Location
In February 1944 Polish schools in Africa were reorganized and fifteen girls and the mother of one of the girls were transferred to a newly-established secondary school for girls in Digglefold, Southern Rhodesia, four boys sent to a secondary school for boys in Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia and one girl to Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia. The secondary school in the Oudtshoorn Camp was converted into a co-educational trade school, including a General School, Technical Gymnasium and a Business School. Documents from late 1946 to early 1947 detail the teaching staff, subjects taught, class schedules and teaching hours, yielding a good understanding of the education to be obtained by the students at the Technical Gymnasium.
In a related (undated) list of adults who are leaving Oudtshoorn we find the mothers of two (and possibly three) of the students accompanying the students to the secondary schools in the capacity of teachers.
One of two undated lists contains the names, ages, professions and current jobs of over 40 adults living on the grounds of the Polish Orphanage in Oudtshoorn. We find the mothers of 16 of the students, fathers of two, grandmother of one and sister of one. Most of these adults are teachers and retired teachers. There is a doctor, a dentist and dental assistant, a carpenter, tailor, a number of civil servants and a forester working as gym teacher. Many of the wives and widows work in the kitchen.
Two rosters are found dated 26 February 1944. The first lists 48 girls over 16 years of age and the second lists 40 girls who were born in 1928 (who will become 16 during the coming year). The birth dates on a number of the girls differs from those shown on the original roster. On the summary charts these differences are indicated by the date of birth being in italics.
According to a list dated 20 June 1944, seven of the girls enlist in the Woman's Auxiliary Air Force. Two of them later appear on lists of transferees to camps in Northern Rhodesia and Kenya, so it is not clear whether they actually served in the WAAF.
In October 1944 exit permits are issued for ten boys who leave South Africa to attend the Maritime Gymnasium in England. Most of the boys are at this time sixteen years of age but one leaves before his fifteenth birthday.
Also in October of 1944, arrangements were made with the East African Refugee Administration to transfer another small group of nine children to Polish camps in Bwana Mkubwa, Abercorn and Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia to rejoin their families. The transfer took place early in 1945.
Some time in 1944 another, large, transfer was made of 115 children to camps in Kenya. The lists document the entry into Kenya of 43 children to Camps in Tengeru, 43 to Masindi, 21 to Koja, 5 to Ifunda, 1 to Morongo or Rongai and 2 to Kidugala.
An accounting made on 17 February 1945 of the remaining 285 children indicates that 43 percent of the original children have been placed during the previous year. (Two new children are recorded, and four girls who were supposed to have enlisted in the WAAF and one child who was recorded as transferring to one of the Kenyan Camps were back in Oudtshoorn.)
A number of the children left the Camp when they graduated school, and joined relatives living in South Africa. Some returned to the camp for the 1947 holidays to be with their relatives who were still at the camp. There exists a list of adults staying in the Union of South Africa on temporary permit. The list is segregated by residence, including Oudtshoorn Camp, Johannesburg, Cape Town and a sprinkling of other locations. Many of these 107 persons listed are either employees of the Polish Children's Home or are relatives of the children. Age and sex of each of these persons is listed. In the case that the person is a relative of a child, then this list extends the genealogical data back an additional generation.
Hidden Jewish Orphans?
It is my personal feeling that a number of the children in the Polish Children's Home in Oudtshoorn were Jewish. The very placement of this Catholic orphanage in Oudtshoorn, a town largely settled in the first half of the 20th century by Lithuanian Jews, and once called the Jerusalem of Africa, is to me suggestive.
A comparison of surnames of the 500 Polish children in the Oudtshoorn Polish Orphan's Home to names in Beider shows that over 50 percent of the names were names known to be used by Jews in Poland (Indicated with asterisks after the surname in the table). Sources of Jewish names used by Beider included 1906-1912 voter lists, 19th-century civil records, Polish community yizkor (memorial) books and lists of Jews from the 20th century.
But one must be cautious not to use only surnames to determine Jewishness. Polish surnames, Jewish and gentile, were derived largely from male given names (patronyms), occupations, products and objects, personal characteristics, animals and place names (toponyms). It is not unexpected, then, to find many names shared by Christians and Jews in the voter lists of 1906-1912.
We find other possible connections on a list describing the transferees to Northern Rhodesia with the appearance of a Dr. and Mrs. Resnikow from Palestine and their daughter from Capetown. Other potential connections are suggested when one studies the lists of adults staying in the Union of South Africa on temporary permit. Family names such as Goldman, Mayer, Goldberg, Goldman, Ginsberg, Spira, Elbaum and Kohn join the Resnikows. Their connection to the Polish Children's Home is of interest.
Value of the Lists
These lists provide birth dates and places for 500 Polish orphans and refugees born between 1925 and 1935, their parents's names and occupations, as well as data on scores of other Polish exiles taking refuge in South Africa.
The data (nine column table) is presented in two files from the links below.
The basis for the table is a list entitled Original List of Children, Polish Orphanage of St. Andrew Boboli, Oudtshoorn, September 1943. In addition to the information shown in the table below, the list contains information on the family residence in Poland, parents' occupation, and parents' current location. The last column was added by the author for notes indicating where each child went in subsequent years, based on other lists and information found in the files. An explanation of each column follows.
No.: This is the line number on the original list. There were exactly 500 children on the list. Note there are two children, unnumbered and not integrated with the rest of the list. These children were found on subsequent lists, and it is not known where they came from.
Family Name: List is alphabetized by family name of child. An asterisk (*) after a name signifies that the name or a variant was used by Polish Jews during the 19th- or 20th-Century according to Beider's dictionary of Jewish surnames.
Given Name: Name as on original list, with variations as noted from other lists.
Birth Date: Birth date from original list. In some cases this date conflicts with the date shown on other lists. In that case the date is shown in italics. When age was shown in lieu of a birth date, the age was subtracted from the year of the list to yield an approximate (CA) year of birth.
Birth City: As given on the list. No attempt was made to verify geographic locations.
Birth District: The list gives either the voivodeship/province (w. or wojew dztwo) or the district/county (p. or powiat). These have been verified and their forms changed.
Father: Father's given name
Mother: Mother's given name
Note: Destination of the child based on a study of other lists in the file. See table footnotes. It is not known where the children went who were no longer on the 1945 register, nor where those who remained in 1945 went after the Home was disbanded in 1947. Perhaps further study of the file can resolve those questions.