In a brief and touching ceremony on Saturday, Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz unveiled a Memorial Pillar to remember the thousands of persecuted Polish refugees who escaped to India during World War II and were given shelter in the erstwhile kingdoms of Kolhapur and Jamnagar in the then Bombay Province.
The Memorial Pillar has come up at tiny Valivade village near modern-day Kolhapur town, where over 5000 Poles lived, integrated, and worked for several years before returning to their country.
Valivade was developed on the lines of a typical independent Polish village where the refugees lived and around 78 people who died were laid to rest in the Polish Cemetery still present there.
On Saturday, there was loud applause and cheers as Danuta, a 93-year-old Polish woman had a warm and emotional reunion with her childhood hockey playmates B. S. Shinde, 87, and D. B. Jadhav, 88.
"They pointed out each other in a faded yellow photograph of their hockey teams of that era and even playfully argued a bit about their correct identity! It was a poignant sight and will be cherished by the people of Kolhapur for long," said local resident Dhananjay Jathar.
Around 20 Polish people who had lived in Valivade as young children during those harrowing days, have come to India to commemorate the 80th anniversary of WW-II and attend the Memorial Pillar inauguration.
The dignitaries also visited the proposed site of the first-ever Memorial Museum which will come up here in Valivade.
"Let the Memorial Museum be a place where everyone can be enriched by the love and humanity shown to the Polish by the people of Kolhapur. I thank the Poles in India for keeping the memories alive," said Przydacz.
"'The Little Poland', while maintaining its distinct identity, coalesced with the local culture and community. I was pleasantly surprised when a Polish parliamentarian addressed me as 'Maharaj'. The Memorial Museum being set up will keep those memories alive," said Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, Rajya Sabha MP and 13th direct descendent of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Other dignitaries present on the occasion were Poland's Ambassador to India Adam Burakowski, President of Poles in India Andrzej Chendynski, Maharashtra's Guardian Minister for Kolhapur Chandrakant Patil and and a large number of locals.