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Polish Orphans 763 Polish orphans rescued by the Japanese Red Cross Society arrived safely at Tsuruga Port between 1920 and 1922.

The orphans were forced to withstand the harsh weather conditions and battle starvation while crossing Siberia.
 Orphans upon the Arrival at Tsuruga Port
On July 23, 1920, the Japanese army transport ship, Chikuzenmaru entered Tsuruga Port from Russiafs Vladivostok. Itfs passengers were children, painfully thin, pale and shabbily dressed. They were Polish orphans who had lost their families in war-torn Siberia. Upon arrival, the children rested in an elementary school in town, and after lunch departed for Tokyo by train. Through five rescue missions, 375 orphans arrived in Tsuruga and were saved.

Tsuruga Harbor at the time of the orphansf landing.
Tsuruga Harbor at the time of the orphansf landing.
 Miserable State of the Orphans from Siberia
In 1919, revolutionary and counterrevolutionary forces were fighting a civil war within Russia. At that time, there were families of Polish political prisoners and patriots in Siberia whose homeland was destroyed by Russia. It is believed about 150,000 to 200,000 people tried to escape the chaos of the civil war, only to be sent to an extremely miserable life in the severe cold of Siberia where they dealt with hard labor, famine and disease. In particular, children whose parents had died were left hungry and homeless. The extreme conditions were likened to hell on earth.

The orphans gathered at Vladivostok before departure.


The orphans gathered at Vladivostok before departure.
 People Assisting the Orphans
In October, 1919, Mrs. Anna Bielkiewicz (center) organized the Polish Rescue Committee in Vladivostok. The American Red Cross Society, which the group depended upon, had withdrawn to America with the departure of the military forces from Siberia. With the situation grim, and no support available, the committee requested assistance from the Japanese government, which, feeling deep sympathy for the plight of the orphans, immediately instructed the Japanese armed forces in Siberia assist the Red Cross Society in providing relief.

Polish Childrenfs Relief Association Executives. (center: Chairperson, Ms. Anna Bielkiewicz.)


Polish Childrenfs Relief Association Executives. (center: Chairperson, Ms. Anna Bielkiewicz.)
 Preparation for welcoming the orphans
In order to streamline the welcoming process, the Tsuruga Red Cross, Tsuruga Town Hall, Police, Army Transport Division, the Army Garment Factory Tsuruga Branch and Tsuruga Customs joined forces to receive the orphans. The Ministry of Railways offered reduced fares and gave instructions to the Tsuruga Transport Office, also Tsurugako, Tsuruga and Maibara Stations regarding the smooth transport of the orphans to Tokyo. In addition, staff of the Japanese Red Cross Society were dispatched to Tsuruga each time to liaise and coordinate with the relevant organizations to receive and transport the children.

Chikuzen Maru. (Gross tonnage: 2,448)
Chikuzen Maru.
(Gross tonnage: 2,448)
Taihoku Maru. (Gross tonnage: 2,469)
Taihoku Maru.
(Gross tonnage: 2,469)
gUpon their arrival from Vladivostok, the orphans were offered some sweets and picture postcards, as well as provided with lodging. h
 The Orphans who were Rescued
In March, 1922, the chairwoman of the Polish Rescue Committee in Vladivostok, Mrs. Anna Bielkiewicz, made an appeal for the rescue of the many orphans in Amurskaya, Transbaikal and the coastal regions, and pleaded for the Japanese Red Cross Society to assist them again. The Red Cross Society, upon gaining an understanding of the situation, expressed great sympathy and over three rescue missions between August 7th and 29th that year, sent 388 children and 39 chaperones to Tsuruga Port.

The orphans in Matsubara, Tsuruga.


The orphans in Matsubara, Tsuruga.
 Tsuruga people accepting the orphans
To prepare for the arrival of the orphans, the Tsuruga Arrival Committee asked the Ministry of Railways for special services and discount fares from Tsuruga to Osaka. Tsuruga Town provided sweets, toys, postcards, accommodation and a resting place. Local volunteers and the Womenfs Society also provided sweets and fruits to console the children. The children only stayed in Tsuruga for a few hours or a day at the most, but the people of Tsuruga offered a warm welcome as best they could during the childrenfs short stay.
Siberia Poland orphan rescue route Polish orphans in Tsuruga.
Polish orphans in Tsuruga.
Siberia Poland orphan rescue route
Vladivostok Station and harbor.
 Tsuruga in memory and record
The late Halina Noviska who lived in Warsaw, Poland and arrived in Japan at the age of nine, spoke about a house in Tsuruga by the sea with a beautiful flower garden. She remembered eating fruits like bananas and oranges, which they had never seen before, and how they played with Japanese children. The Tsuruga Town Office records between 1920 and 1922, show reports of the acceptance of the orphans and of donations made, while the Matsubara Elementary School Chronicles have an account of the childrenfs visit to the school.

 From Tsuruga to Tokyo and Osaka
Between 1920 and 1921 the first group of 375 orphans were admitted to the "Fukuden Society Childcare Facility" in Shibuya Town, Toyotama district, just outside of Tokyo. (Present day Hiroo 4-chome, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo City.) The Fukuden Society was next to the Red Cross Headquarters Hospital, and the campus facilities were furnished with a playground and gardens making it a suitable environment to accommodate children. A second group of 388 orphans was additionally rescued in 1922, and the Nurses' Dormitory attached to the Osaka City Citizen's Hospital in Tennoji Village, Higashinari County, Osaka City, (Presently the hospital attached to the Osaka City University Medical School in Asahi Town, Abeno Ward, Osaka City) had been prepared. This dormitory had two newly constructed floors that were clean and as yet unused, and the facility was well appointed with large grounds and a garden.

gWhile I was sick, the nurse gently caressed my head and kissed me. I had never felt the kindness of such treatment before. h
 Status of the orphans
When they arrived, many of the orphans were extremely thin from poor nutrition, and had pale complexions. Their abdomens were swollen and they were dizzy even when walking. In addition, many of the children were suffering from diseases such as typhoid fever, common colds and whooping cough, and so they were treated immediately. Furthermore, many of the children weren't wearing shoes and had tattered clothes because of their long and arduous journey. The Japanese Red Cross Society fitted the children with new clothes, underwear, shoes and socks, and provided meals including sweets and fruits.

 Life in Japan
In order to comfort the children at the accommodation facility, recreational events were often scheduled, including visits to museums and the zoo. They were bestowed with an imperial donation from the Empress Teimei, and a large number of donations were received from all over Japan. The children obeyed the rules well and prayed daily before breakfast and prior to going to bed. The hospitals had prepared rooms so that the children could quickly receive sufficient medical treatment. Police officers were deployed for the safety of the children, all of whom were well cared for and surrounded with good intentions.

Orphans and the Japanese Red Cross Society nurses.@P@Orphans and the Japanese Red Cross Society nurses.@Q
Orphans and the Japanese Red Cross Society nurses.
 Daily Life
The childrenfs day began when they woke up at 6AM (7AM in the winter) and after washing their faces they prayed and ate breakfast at 7AM. They spent their time after that reading, studying or playing with donated toys. The afternoon was time spent freely on their own. Dinner was at 6PM, followed by prayer and bedtime at 8PM. In addition, they sometimes spent fun days seeing the sights of the city and attending a variety of recreational get-togethers. Meals were prepared by attendants who accompanied the children to Japan and took into consideration their tastes and nutritional needs.

The orphans enjoying a meal.
The orphans enjoying a meal.
The orphans and laundry.
The orphans and laundry.
 A sad incident
It was not an easy task taking care of the orphans. A popular 23 year-old nurse, Ms. Fumi Matsuzawa, contracted typhoid fever from one of the orphans and died while working. Her death shocked many of the children and people concerned. The little children who didn't know the circumstances of Nurse Matsuzawa's death kept calling her name, causing the other caregivers to break down in tears. She was posthumously presented with a Polish Red Cross Award in 1921, and in 1929 was presented another honorary award. Nurse Fumi Matsuzawa was born in Niigata Prefecture, and was a member of the Red Cross Kanagawa Prefecture chapter at the time.

The orphans surrounding the nurses.
The orphans surrounding the nurses.
Farewell
On the day of departure, the orphans stood on the ship decks
and tearfully sang the national anthems of Japan and Poland.


With teary faces, and waving the flags of both countries along with those of the Red Cross, the children hesitantly departed with shouts of gThank youh and gGoodbyeh.
The first stage saw the orphans ferried from Yokohama over six boatloads. 150 were aboard the Suwa Maru, 114 aboard the Katori Maru and 106 were carried on the Fushimi Maru, a total of 370 repatriated to Poland via America. The other group were accommodated in Osaka and shipped from Kobe in two missions. 191 aboard the Katori Maru and 199 on the Atsuta Maru, a total of 390 orphans, stopping at Hong Kong, Singapore, Marseilles, London before being sent on to Poland.
The first group sent to America aboard the Suwa Maru from Yokohama.
The first group sent to America
aboard the Suwa Maru from Yokohama.
(Gross tonnage: 11,758 Tons)
The returning orphans being transported from Kobe Port.
The returning orphans
being transported from Kobe Port.
The Katori Maru transporting the second group of orphans from Kobe to Poland.
The Katori Maru transporting
the second group of orphans
from Kobe to Poland.
(Gross tonnage: 9,847 Tons)
Offering Thanks
gOn behalf of the rescued Siberian Poland children, thank you for your devoted assistance.h
Chairman of the former
Far East Youth Association,
Jerzy strzalkowski

Mr. Jerzy Strzalkowski was 15 years old when he was sent to Osaka. On his return home, he organized the Far East Youth Association, and later fought for his country in World War Two. Years later, on a visit to the Red Cross Osaka Branch, he spoke with tears in his eyes, saying gOn behalf of all the orphans who arrived in Japan 64 years ago, we want to say thank you to Japan and the Japanese Red Cross Society.h
Others who were in a similar position were awarded the Yad Vashem Award from the Israeli Government for harboring boys of Polish Jewish descent from the German occupation.
The orphans at their Osaka lodgings.
The orphans at their Osaka lodgings.
Former orphan Mr. Strzalkowski (left) and the then Red Cross Society President, Mr. Keizo Hayashi.
Former orphan Mr. Strzalkowski (left)
and the then Red Cross Society President, Mr. Keizo Hayashi.

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