German’s combined armed forces of Heer (Army), Luftwaffe (Air Force) and Kriegsmarine (Navy) during World War II, was termed as Wehrmacht, which meant “Defence Power” in German.
Wehrmacht committed systematic war crimes included massacres, mass rape, looting, forced labour, murder of three million Soviet Prisoners of War and extermination of about 6 million Jews.
Wehrmacht attacked Poland on September 1, 1939.
A group of about 600 Polish children and 40 women were rescued and put onboard small ships, which travelled from port to port – in Scotland, Ireland, Africa, but were barred from entering. Finally, they arrived in Bombay.
Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja, King of Navanagar in Gujarat, was an Indian representative on the Imperial War cabinet in London, chaired by Winston Churchill.
Hearing of the children’s plight from the Polish Prime Minister-in-exile – General Wladyslaw Sikorski, he flew immediately to Bombay. He first went to the ships, saw the dreadful condition of the kids, spoke to the captains and went to meet the Governor. British Governor also refused entry, saying he did not have permission from the home office in London, and that they came from enemy territory.
Maharaja went back to the ships and asked the captains to move to Navanagar’s Rosi Port. He took them all off and put them in tented accommodation.
Viceregal Office in Delhi objected to him taking in foreigners. Maharaja said they were part of his family, and even produced an adoption certificate.
Later a camp was set up in Balachadi, about 15 miles away from the Capital City of Jamnagar. The camp existed till early 1946; subsequently, the children were transferred to Valivade camp in Kolhapur. To educate the children, a school was also set up.
While the Red Cross, the Polish Army in exile and the colonial administration jointly helped set up the camps, it was the Maharaja who played the crucial role in the children’s welfare.
Maharaja told the children, “You may not have your parents, but I am your father now.” The children, in turn, called him “our Bapu” (“father”).
United Nations-assisted repatriation began in 1946.
Poland has shown its gratitude to the Maharaja in various forms. Warsaw has a “Good Maharaja Square” named after the Maharaja. Poland also named a school after the Maharaja, who was passionate about children’s education. The Maharajah was awarded the President’s Medal, Poland’s highest honour.