Poland Orphans and Orphanages

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Polish Children's Home Oudtshoorn, South Africa, 1942-1947

500 children 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.

In 1942, the London government, secured permission from the government of the Union of South Africa to transport 500 children to that country. In 1943 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:

  • FamilyName
  • 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. Documents from late 1946 to early 1947 detail the teaching staff, subjects taught, class schedules and teaching hours. 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. Most of these adults are teachers and retired teachers. Two rosters are found dated 26 February 1944. Also, various transfer lists are found describing transfers to schools and placement to homes. There exists a list of adults staying in the Union of South Africa on temporary permit.

It appears that a number of the children in the Polish Children's Home in Oudtshoorn were Jewish. This Catholic orphanage was placed in Oudtshoom, a town largely settled in the first half of the 20th century by Lithuanian Jews, and once called "the Jerusalem of Africa". A comparison of surnames of the 500 Polish children in the Oudtshoorn Polish Orphans' Home shows that over 50 percent of the names were names known to be used by Jews in Poland.

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 on the FEEFHS website and contain children's number on the original list, family name, given name, birth date, birth city, birth district, father, mother, destination of the child based on a study of other lists in the file:

Nos. I - 244 (Surnames A - L)
Nos. 245 - 500 (Surnames M - Z)

This is the extract of a lecture Polish Children's Home, Oudtshoorn, South Africa 1942-47 by Robert Weiss, presented at the FEEFHS Convention, Salt Lake City in September 1997. To read the article in its entirety see FEEFHS Journal 5:3-4 (August 1998) or click here.