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A few words about Harbin and the fate of Polish Diaspora in Harbin

A long time ago in the state of the middle, behind the winding rivers: the Yangtze River, the Yellow River, Amur, called the Chinese Black Dragon, and Sungari – the river of pine blossoms, behind the sandy, Rocky and stepper Deseres: Takla Makan, Alaszan and Gobi, behind the arched chains of the great and Little Chingan, near the vast seas: Yellow Sea and Japanese Sea  existed... Polish city.


The world's most famous winter festival


Today it is the largest city in north-eastern China, which is the capital of the province. It is also one of the eight most populous metropolis in the state of the measure, and the number of its inhabitants (also counting suburban areas) is now the same as a quarter of the Polish population. Today, the city has gained international fame thanks to the "Festival of ice sculptures". This is obviously a description of the Harbin.


Polish city in China


Hardly anyone knows, however, that a considerable share of the founding of this multi-million metropolis have Poles, and the city itself was created by the expansion of the Trans-Siberian railways, which was to connect Moscow with Vladivostok. One of its numerous branches was the East China Railway. On 8 March 1898, from Vladivostok, she embarked on a special expedition under the direction of Adam Szydłowski's engineer, who aimed to find a suitable place for the construction of the administrative center for the railway Management, builders, and in the future Also the railers.


Polish Rockefeller in the Far East


In May 1898r. The expedition, which consisted mainly of the Russians and Poles, reached a fork between the rivers Sungari and Aszyche. There, the members of the first settlement were founded practically from scratch. The date of the city's founding is 16 May, when the ship "Odessa" came to this place "with members of the East China Railway Board and engineers. Since then, the city has developed at a rapid pace. It also became an important place for Poles, because the Polish colony in the first years of existence had a population of up to 7 to 10 thousand people. Among the poles there were many specialists, and above all skilled workers of railways, doctors, engineers and architects. Interestingly, the first mayor of the city was... Adam. In contrast, one of the richest Harbian citizen was Władysław Kowalski. It had a forest concession along the eastern line of the East China Railway, with an area of approx. 6 thousand km², as well as a plywood factory in the old Harbin, which has hired 7 thousand people. Another very wealthy Polish entrepreneur in Harbin was Lew Zikman – owner of Sugar Mills, mills and distilleries in Aszyche. Thanks to his actions many Poles found work in his companies.


Chinese New York


Harbin from the mid-20TH century can be compared to today's New York City. The city was inhabited by more than twenty different nationalities. There were even separate districts: American, Chinese, Japanese and Russian. The Polish diaspora has also established numerous relations with both the inhabitants of the state of the measure and the members of other national minorities.

Special ties, however, were connected by Polish and Chinese inhabitants of the city. Poles were characterized by an open attitude and willingness to integrate with Chinese society. They often made friendships with the citizens of the state of the center from a very early age, and even Polish-Chinese marriages have happened. As a result, they usually have a chance to learn more about Chinese culture, including language and traditions, as small children. These bonds also strengthened the joint participation in religious ceremonies. It was also not without significance the mutual provision of services and the lively trade between the members of the Polonia Harb and the Chinese.


Second homeland of Poles


Poles Wrastali in the land there to the extent that the Polish community appeared in the memories of the idea, “bycia harbińczykiem " (being a Harbin citizen), that is, the local." However, the message of this idea did not entail the destruction of its own identity. The members of the Polish Diaspora in Harbin have never forgotten their first "homeland and nurture Polish tradition. However, after the outbreak of World War II, many members of the Polish community, although they knew their country only from short stories, volunteed to Polish troops.

After Poland regained its independence in 1918, many Poles living in China decided to return to their homeland. The number of Polish diaspora has also declined considerably after 1924 years, due to the unfavorable agreement between China and Russia, according to which the employees of the railways could only be citizens of the two countries. Many Polish Harbin citizens have left the city permanently. In the 30s. The 20TH century was inhabited by only about 1500 people.

However, despite significant reductions in the number of members, Poland diaspora owned m.in. His own two churches, elementary school, High School, she published her own Polish press, and even... She founded the Orientalist Museum. This last educational facility was created by the efforts of Kazimierz Grochowski – a valued geologist and ethnographer, entrepreneur, journalist, educator, Philanthrope and longtime inhabitant of Harbin. A key role in identity preservation for almost half a century was played by both the Consulate General of the REPUBLIC of Poland (in 1941 it was closed by the Japanese occupation authorities), the church, as well as the Socio-cultural Association, "Gospoda Polska".


The Japanese occupation of Harbin


In 1932, Harbin was occupied by the Japanese Army, and Japan formed the puppet state of Manjaro in north-eastern China. Soon the repressing of the new authorities affected the Poles too. The chicanes against members of the Polish diaspora initially mostly had only economic background. However, the situation changed dramatically after the outbreak of World War II, especially after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the accession of the United States to the war with the Empire. Among the many victims of the occupier were Poles, both those living in the city itself and beyond. The occupation authorities also closed the Polish consulate in Harbin, the Polish gymnasium, and also significantly reduced the activities of the Polish householders "and received the poles most of the companies.

The Polish welfare Committee was appointed to the place of the closed consulate and chaired by Albin Czyżewski. Thanks to the good internal organization of Polonia, as well as the efficient protection of Polish interests by this Committee, the Poles who lived in this area, however, were looking forward to the end of the war.

Although the Japanese occupation of Harbin, especially in the last four years, was a very difficult time for the city of Polonia, it was the fate of Polish diaspora members, and so was the incomparability, lighter "from the fate of the counties under German occupation and Soviet. The Japanese Terror was measured almost entirely against the Chinese.


Help of Polish Diaspora in Harbin Chinese people during the occupation


It is worth mentioning that Poles living in Harb often assisted their Chinese neighbours in these difficult times. Polish Harbin citizens also had a significant contribution to the creation of the so-called. The Lytton report, a document that stated that Manchukuo was not a sovereign state, just as Japan preyed. 9 May 1932 in "Gospodzie Polska" (Polish Inn) members of the United Nations Special Committee met with representatives of the Polish colony. The Poles informed the diplomats that the actions of the Japanese were incompatible with international law, and their testimony proved to be some of the key in this matter and influenced the Commission's decision not to recognise the new state of Manjaro. Among the four Poles defending Hong Kong until three came from Harbin. There has never been an act of collaborating on the part of the members of Polish Diaspora in Harbin, and the attitude of the citizens of the SECOND Republic to Japan was strongly disinclined. The Poles who lived in Harbin directly determined the situation of the occupation.

As a curiosity, it can be added that throughout the war, with the agreement of the government in London (Polish Government-in-exile), both the Japanese and Polish interviets cooperated with each other on the issue of obtaining information about the Third Reich and the USSR. The Polish counter-interview worked in Harbin area and was most likely collaborated with representatives of the Japanese military mission for a period of time. The activity of the Polish facility in Harbin ended tragically, as its members were killed by the Japanese in 1941.


After 1945...


In 1945, the Red Army entered Harbin. Chaos was in the city and the agenda was violence and loaner. That is why, at the request of the Polish Consul James Douglas was created Poland headquarters, whose task was to try to maintain peace in Harbin and to protect the strategic places in the city, m.in. Urban provisioning warehouses and military warehouses at the airport. This period was also extremely dangerous for the Polish diaspora. Many Poles were then exported to Soviet camps.

It is worth mentioning that, although during the Japanese occupation, members of the Harbin Polonia suffered numerous wrongs from the Manchukuo authorities, after the invasion of the Red Army, there were cases when Poles were helping Japanese civilians (usually Members of Russian families), often exposing their own lives.

In 1947, most of the Polish Harbians decided to leave the state of the measure. There are two main directions of exile: Australia and Poland. Almost all members of the Polonia Harbińska, who decided to return to Poland, chose the Western and northern lands, mainly Szczecin and Wrocław, as the place of settlement.


Szczeciński Klub Harbińczyka (Szczecin’s Harbin Citizen Club)


Currently in the capital of the West Pomeranian Voivodship operates the Klub Harbińczyka (The Harbin Citizen Club), bringing together the former members of the Polish Diaspora in Harbin and their families. The task of the organization is to cultivate the memory of members of the Polish community of China, popularizing knowledge about it, as well as taking care of souvenirs related to the activities of Poles at that time. This institution works closely with the Książnica Pomorska (Pomeranian Library). Klub Harbinczyka and the Książnica Pomorska jointly organized m.in. Three conferences devoted to the fate of Poles in China and in Harbin. Also thanks to their initiative the Szczecin roundabout at the junction of Bogumiły and Spółdzielcza streets in Łękno was called the ”Rondo Polonii Mandżurskiej" (Polish Diaspora in Manchuria’ Roundabout).


Memories and studies about the Polish Diaspora in Harbin


Several monographs, studies and memories and dozens of articles were issued on the history of the Polish Diaspora in Harbin. Readers interested in this topic will find a lot of new information m.in. In the following bibliography:

Cabanowski Marek, Secrets of Manchuria – Poles in Harbin, Warsaw 1993.

Drabczak Lucia, my China. Childhood memories, Gdańsk 2005.

Grochowski Kazimierz, Poles in the Far East, Harbin 1928.

Kajanian Edward, the turbulent history of the East China railways 1898-1998, Warsaw 2000.

Kajanian Edward, memories of my Atlantis, Warsaw 2013.

Kalusky Marian, poles in China, Warsaw 2001.

Konstanty Symonolewicz – orientalist, diplomat, guardian of Polonia Mandżurska, under red. Adam Winiarz, Szczecin 2012.

Poles in Manchuria (1897-1949), warsaw 2015. (Album published by the cooperation of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, Chief Directorate of State Archives and new Act Archives)

Polish traces in the Far East. Poles in Harbin. Materials from the scientific conference organized in Szczecin on 23-24 October 2008, Red. A. Furier, Szczecin 2008.

Yong Deog Kim, Polish Colony in Manchuria 1897-1949, Krakow 2001.

I also invite you to follow the fate of Witold and Shaoyao and other heroes in the next parts of the saga: The Postcard from Harbin.

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