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Little Poland en la hacienda

by on April 22, 2011


Performing a holiday pageant outdoors.

Polish refugees perform an Easter pageant in the Mexican sunshine.

 

From 1943 to 1946, Colonia Santa Rosa in Guanajuato, Mexico was the site of a US-government sponsored home for Polish refugees. About 240 miles northwest of Mexico City and “10 minutes’ ride by mule-drawn tram from the Leon railway station,” the hacienda included a 39-room ranch house, a flour mill, ten wheat storage warehouses, a chapel and other buildings, as well as several acres for growing crops. By October 1943, almost 1,500 Poles were sheltered at Colonia Santa Rosa.

Relaxing on the hacienda grounds.

Relaxing on the hacienda grounds.

 

Their path to Mexico was an unlikely one. Having been removed from their communities by the Soviet military in 1939, they first were put to work in Russia and Siberia. They were resettled in Iran by the Russians, and fell into the care of the British government. The British relocated them to camps in Karachi, then still a part of India, and sought US assistance for their support. An agreement was reached between the British, US and Mexican governments with the provisional Polish government in London to relocate these refugees to Mexico. There they were cared for through US aid.

Tending the fields.

Tending the fields.

 

At the Colonia, school classes were organized for the children, as well as recreational activities like Boy Scouts. Adults learned new trades and cared for the crops and animals. But the same agreement that had allowed for the creation of the Colonia also stipulated its closure following the end of the war, and the refugees knew they must prepare for another immigration. As a May, 1945 report on the community of Santa Rosa stated,

“The only real solution to a refugee’s future is to build him a bridge as quickly and as firmly as possible to the shore of permanent and successful resettlement, wherever it may be.”

The old mill was converted into a school and recreation center.

The old mill was converted into a school and recreation center.

 

When the camp was closed on December 31, 1946, the refugees were resettled in the United States. Orphaned children were placed privately with American Polish families, and in orphanages. Older girls were found domestic positions. Families were sponsored through Catholic and private American groups, particularly the Polish American Council. Many refugees were reunited with family members who came to the United States through different immigration paths. Most eventually became American citizens.

All photographs and quotations in this post are from the Foreign Economic Administration’s “Records Relating to the Polish Refugee Camp in Colonia Santa Rosa, Mexico,” 1942-1945. Additional information about the Colonia can also be found in other FEA series, and in records of the Department of State.


Comments

Jason Clingerman April 22, 2011 at 11:35 am

Really interesting story! Where did the idea to resettle the refugees in Mexico originate? Just seems random. And did any significant number stay in Mexico after 1946?

Robin Waldman April 22, 2011 at 1:10 pm

According to the documents, it appears that Mexico was pressured to participate in alleviating the international refugee crisis. The Mexican government said they had no money to contribute but they could offer physical haven as long as another ally assumed the associated financial burdens. To my knowledge, no refugees stayed in Mexico but the Colonia alumni do maintain a private historical association and reunion group that may have more detailed information.

Meredith Stewart April 26, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Super interesting! Thank you for sharing.

Kent Christensen April 28, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Just happy that my Dad was on crew of USS Hermitage (AP-54), a USA troop transport, that transported the refugees from Bombay to Los Angeles. 2 voyages.

Robin Waldman April 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Thanks for sharing, Kent! The papers include some interesting narrative about the complicated logistics of transporting the refugees (by train) from California to the Central Mexican border. US Customs officials wanted to keep their bags sealed. Mexican officials wanted to open everything.

Danielle DuBois May 13, 2011 at 9:48 am

Very interesting chapter in the history of the immediate post-war years! Thanks for writing this up.

The accompanying photos are great.

Robin Waldman May 16, 2011 at 7:38 am

Thanks, Danielle!

Barbara Grygier September 8, 2011 at 11:22 pm

How would I get information about their family that was interned at Colonial Santa Rosa?

Robin Waldman September 9, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Barbara,
If you searched our records here, you might come across some information, but these records are not indexed by name. There is a reunion group called “Poles of Santa Rosa,” including a descendant who is raising funds to make a documentary about the Colonia, and there is also the Polish American Council (out of Chicago) – contacting either of those groups might provide you the information you’re seeking. Good luck!

Jack Wronski December 23, 2011 at 2:42 am

My uncle Professor Felix Sobota was a Director of Education at the Colonia. He organized educational programs for the students.He also photographed all residents and created a photo album. The album was presented to all staff members upon closing of the camp. There is more info about this at the Electronic Museum page re Colonia Santa Rosa. The Poles of Santa Rosa Society should have a list of all detainees…Good Luck…

Simon May 23, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I am trying to find information about my Great Aunt Stephanie BIALOSIEWICZ who was at Santa Rosa I believe – can anyone help me. Thanks

Anna Dimakopoulou August 12, 2012 at 2:42 am

I’m looking in archives all over the world for Zofia Hendel DOB 29/04/1929 Wolyn now Ukraine. Lost contact with our family post- Siberian deportation in Wrewskoje Uzbekhistan May 1942 . Recently heard that she visited Wolyn circa 1975. Did she come to the Santa Rosa camp?
Still trying to reunite my mother now 86 living in United Kingdom. Any info please contact anna-dimak@hotmail.co.uk.

Julek Plowy August 14, 2012 at 3:04 am

I have a great deal of infomation on Colonia Santa Rosa Mexico and will be happy to share that information with anyone interested including a complete list of all who were at that location. Many photos and a copy of the photo book that was produced of all activities of the camp with a map of the camp buildings. The ship that transported us and other information.

Stefan Wisniowski August 14, 2012 at 9:20 pm

I invite anyone seeking information or with an interest in Polish wartime refugees (incl in Mexico) to join our Community of Interest at Kresy-Siberia: visit http://www.kresy-siberia.org ; join the global discussion forum at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Kresy-Siberia/or see the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/KSF.FKS

Stefan Wisniowski August 14, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Dear Robin – thanks for your article, which was great but had just a few historical inaccuracies – specifically:
1 .These Polish refugees were not “removed from their communities by the Soviet military in 1939” but rather deported from their homes at gunpoint and in locked cattle cars by Soviet occupation authorities in 1940 and 1941.
2. They were not simply “put to work” but sent to forced physical labor camps in harsh work and living conditions that killed many.
3. They were not “resettled in Iran by the Russians” but were released from Soviet captivity after the Germans attacked their former Soviet allies, and were then evacuated by the newly reformed Polish Army under General Wladyslaw Anders to British-occupied Iran to escape their Soviet exile.
4. They did not “fall into the care of the British government” but were accommodated under war-time agreements between the Polish and British governments.
5. It was not a “provisional Polish government” but the official Polish government-in-exile, relocated to London when Poland was invaded and occupied by Germany and the USSR.
6. The British did not get “US assistance for their support” but Polish Prime Minister Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski secured an agreement with the government of Mexico in December 1942 to take the refugees and the US agreed to LEND Poland money to cover refugee living costs.

7. In Mexico they were not simply “cared for through US aid” but were under the administration of Poland’s Ministry of Labor and Public Welfare, funded by a US government LOAN for construction and refugee maintenance, and grants from American relief organizations “Polish War Relief” for education, medical help and clothing and the “National Catholic Welfare Conference” for pre-vocational education of youth, cultural needs, amusements and recreational facilities and excursions.

Krystyna August 15, 2012 at 12:02 pm

That blog had just a few historical inaccuracies – specifically:

1. These Polish refugees were not “removed from their communities by the Soviet military in 1939” but rather deported from their homes at gunpoint and in locked
cattle cars by Soviet occupation authorities in 1940 and 1941.

2. They were not simply “put to work” but sent to forced physical labor camps in harsh work and living conditions that killed many.

3. They were not “resettled in Iran by the Russians” but were released from Soviet captivity after the Germans attacked their former Soviet allies, and were then evacuated by the newly reformed Polish Army under General Wladyslaw Anders to British-occupied Iran to escape their Soviet exile.

4. They did not “fall into the care of the British government” but were accommodated under war-time agreements between the Polish and British governments.

5. It was not a “provisional Polish government” but the official Polish government-in-exile, relocated to London when Poland was invaded and occupied by Germany and the USSR.

6. The British did not get “US assistance for their support” but Polish Prime Minister Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski secured an agreement with the government of Mexico in December 1942 to take the refugees and the US agreed to LEND Poland money to cover refugee living costs.

7. In Mexico they were not simply “cared for through US aid” but were under the administration of Poland’s Ministry of Labor and Public Welfare, funded by a US government LOAN for construction and refugee maintenance, and grants from American relief organizations “Polish War Relief” for education, medical help and clothing and the “National Catholic Welfare Conference” for pre-vocational education of youth, cultural needs, amusements and recreational facilities and excursions.
Stefan Wisniowski,
President, Kresy-Siberia Foundation

Melchor Segura August 16, 2012 at 4:26 am

I lived in the same Hacienda where they were living back then. Now it belongs to a group of Catholic people that helps children with no parents or children who lived in the street. The Salesians, and the project it’s called “Ciudad del Niño Don Bosco” http://www.ninosdonbosco.org/
I remember they used to tells us stories about Poland people who lived there, refugees from the Second World War. Back in 1998 or 1999 Lech Walesa and some other people came to visit the Hacienda, I gave a watercolor to Lech Walesa of the hacienda I tried to picture how it was looking back then and painted it.

Jose Roman December 26, 2012 at 11:24 pm

On the contrary to Robin Waldman statement that no refugees stayed in Mexico, there were! Those that stayed in Mexico moved to Mexico City or moved as far as Chihuahua and Yucatan peninsula. My grandmother is one example who stayed in Mexico and got married to a Mexican on her first marriage and had two kids. Her second marriage to my grandfather was in 1956; they left to Chicago and my mom was born. She is trilingual in Polish, Spanish and English. Now my grandma and grandpa has been living the past seven years full time in Mexico.
This link http://www2.esmas.com/noticierostelevisa/cultura/124704/polacos-mexico-exilio-olvidado which is in Spanish, gives information telling you that some stayed in Mexico even though majority went to the US and Canada.

Mark Kusie March 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Hi Stefan and Julek….glad you both found this site as I have just visit it. As you know my mom (80 years old this year) was part of this camp and still searching for one of her girlfriends who stayed behind and was married in Mexico. Her name is Maria Kedziorek (Mar-3-1936) Married name Maria Gonzales…making it difficult to find in Mexico. My aunt may even be in the photo “Tending the fields” Second from the right..Janina Hanowska
Mark

Barbara March 30, 2013 at 9:39 pm

My mom, uncle and aunt were “guests” at Santa Rosa, last name Buczek. My mom has since past but would be interested in any information you may have.

Robin Waldman April 15, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Please direct your query to archives2reference@nara.gov and a reference archivist will be able to assist you.

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