Whilst commemorative events took place across London last weekend to mark the 70th anniversary of VE day, in the North East of England former polish refugees also reflected on their journeys.
Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939; the invasion left millions of people displaced, fleeing to other countries and setting up temporary refuge in DP camps (displaced person camps). The last polish DP camp to close in the UK was in Gloucestershire in 1970 – 25 years after World War two ended.
Another one of these camps was in Morpeth, Northumberland. When the camp closed many of the refugees then settled in the North East of England. A BBC programme broadcast on Monday the 11th of May showed a number of former refugees discussing their experiences in the camps and life in the UK afterwards.
One testimony came from Krystyna Wojcicka; she was brought to the camp as a child with her parents who came from slave labour in Germany and imprisonment in the USSR. She said despite the lack of amenities - there was no heating or running water - people arrived “with hope for the future.” She said: “I think the camp gave them a place of stability and safety to adjust to life”.
Piotr Sulek was a soldier who escaped from a Siberian labour camp, after the war he was rendered homeless in Poland so he too moved to the camp in Morpeth. Reflecting on his experience in the documentary, he describes it as “a small Poland”. When talking about the people of Northumberland he said: “I was very surprised, they were very friendly with us.”