Tale tells of couple's escape from Poland to NZ

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 08/05/2014

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The story of a Polish couple who came to Taranaki to escape the horrors of their homeland has been recorded for future generations.

Ivan and Barbara McCracken started looking into the lives of Mathaeus and Josephina Lewandowski, Ivan McCracken's great grandparents, about three years ago.

As extended family members heard about the project they offered photos and snippets of information which has now been put into a book that was on show at a reunion of descendants held at the Fred Tucker Hall, in Bell Block, last weekend.

While the McCrackens were doing the research extended family members met each other for the first time and others renewed relationships, Barbara McCracken said.

And a long lost relative, who was adopted out, met his birth family.

When the family arrived in New Zealand they were often regarded as German, which upset them, she said.

The Lewandowski family came from the small village of Kokoszkowy in Poland. In the 1870s Poland technically didn't exist as it had been invaded and then partitioned, but the people still considered themselves Polish.

Kokoszkowy was run by Prussia and the Polish people were banned from speaking Polish, McCracken said.

"Life was very hard. It was little better than slavery. The people were treated as scum of the earth and not worthy of educating."

One person in the village could read and read a pamphlet saying they could escape Poland, so many of the villagers went to Hamburg, in Germany and got on a boat, she said.

"They didn't know where they were going. Some of them thought they were going to America. They had probably never heard of New Zealand."

When the couple arrived in New Zealand on the Fritz Reuter in 1876 they lived in very harsh conditions in Hokitika for a year before moving to Taranaki to meet up with other Polish immigrants. They bought a farm at Cross Rd in Midhirst.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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