The ‘Good Maharaja’ square was inaugurated in Warsaw by the Polish Govt. in 2013 in remembrance of the efforts of Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja of Nawanagar or Maharaja Jam Saheb in rehabilitating 640 Polish women and children escaping the atrocities of the Soviets in their homeland Poland in 1942.
In 1939, the beginning of the Second World War, the Nazis and the Soviets attacked Poland. As per the Nazi-Soviet Pact that followed; the Soviet Union occupied half of Poland’s territory. In 1940, the Soviets massacred thousands of Polish soldiers, called the ‘Katyn’ massacre and thereafter began the mass deportations of Polish civilians. Many Polish civilians were deported to the ‘Gulag’ – forced labour camps under the regime of Vladimir Lenin in interior Russia.
A group of Poles comprising mainly of women and children escaped by sea and tried to find asylum in other countries but could find none. One reason being that the British Govt. did not want to court controversy by sheltering them. Their journey was marked by tragedy and uncertainty which was overcome solely by their indomitable spirit and the kindness of strangers.
One such kind stranger was the ‘Good Maharaja’ – The Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar. At that time, although India was under British rule, the princely states enjoyed a level of autonomy and the Maharaja took it upon himself under his own personal risk to help the foreign refugees despite pressure from the British against doing so. Those were difficult times with India battling the Bengal famine and supporting the efforts of the British in the Second World War, which makes the efforts of the Maharaja even more noteworthy.
Maharaja set about building the Balachadi camp for the Poles, which was located just near his summer palace and 25 km away from the capital city of Jamnagar. The place was beautiful with hills and alongside the seashore which helped the women and children recoup well after their ordeal. The Maharaja went to great lengths to see to it that the inmates were comfortable and even hired cooks from Goa to cook meals to their taste. The children also were taught in schools. The Maharaja took care of his extended ‘family’ for four whole years. He was called ‘Bapu’ or father by the children. When the war ended ‘Bapu’ formally adopted the children to prevent their forcible return to Poland still controlled by the Soviets. Indeed the Maharaja’s humanitarian efforts were ‘unparalleled’.
The ‘Survivors of Balachadi’ as they fondly call themselves still miss India and call it their second home. The Maharaja was posthumously awarded the Commanders Cross of the Order of Merit by the Polish Govt.