Anjali Bhushan’s interesting documentary, My Home India (2019) unveils a chapter in World War II history hitherto unknown. It chronicles the indefatigable efforts of a strong-willed Polish woman to shelter the Polish refugees (around 10,000) in Valivade, Maharashtra in the aftermath of World War II. Valivade was one of the two camps in India, run tirelessly around the clock to make a home for the Polish war refugees. The other camp was situated in Jamnagar, Gujarat which housed nearly 5,000 Poles. A documentary titled ‘A Little Poland in India’ (2013), produced and directed by Delhi-based Anu Radha, told the story of Polish refugee children finding refuge in the Jamnagar camp.
Dubbed as the ‘Indian Oskar Schindler’, Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji of the Jadeja clan (also known as ‘Jam Sahib’) intervened to help in the dire situation and built a camp to house the refugees. My Home India focuses on the travails of a Polish ambassadorial team in Maharashtra, which set out to send a convoy of food relief to the Poles in a Soviet Siberian labour camp (with the knowledge of the British authorities in India), but to everyone’s surprise they returned with 5,500 Polish women and children (since Poland was annexed to the Soviet Union the Poles had no country to go to in post-war Europe).
Kira Banasinska, the lionized heroine of the documentary, was the delegate for Red Cross in India and wife of the Polish Consul General Eugeniusz Banasinska (also the dean of the diplomatic corps in Bombay). Kira was instrumental in enlisting the charitable maharaja of Kohlapur to donate land at Valivade and construct barracks to house the refugees (between 1943 and 1948). After the gradual liquidation of the camp, some migrated to Europe while few returned to Communist-controlled Poland.
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Director Anjali Bhushan shares writing credits with Malgorzata Czausow, a retired Polish Consul staff, who has skillfully sourced previously unseen materials. The rare collection of archives (and family photo albums) combined with some of the first-hand testimonies of survivors highlight the extraordinary nature of Kira and the hardships she had overcome. Kira died at the ripe old age of 102 (1899-2002) in Hyderabad and throughout her life, she played an important role in pioneering Montessori education (JRD Tata has financed her Montessori school).
The crisply edited documentary also tells the heart-warming story of Wanda Kovicka, who had stayed in India and married a local guy. She is a great grandmother now, who has embraced both the religious faiths of Catholicism and Hinduism. My Home India also captures the nostalgic reunions of the once Polish refugees in the Kolhapur home of Colonel Vijay Gaikwad (in 2014). Some of them recall how they felt secure, having escaped the turmoil of war and re-discovered their childhood joys. Although seven decades have passed, the elderly Polish people and their descendants have turned the place into a pilgrimage site. One of them touchingly calls India as “my home away from home”. Overall, My Home India (44 minutes) pays hefty tribute to an incredibly courageous and kind woman, and also expands the ambit of India’s unsung role in World War II.