How Africa Provided Safety For European Refugees During WWII
November 17, 2020 112
Over the course of human history, Africa has been a source of resources, safety, and refuge for the Europeans, even though they do not loud or admit it.
Our natural and human resources have fed and kept European economies afloat for centuries. More interesting is the fact that our lands have saved thousands of Europeans from the jaws of death.
Not-too-public historical accounts have it that at least 190,000 adults and children from Poland came to Africa as refugees during World War II. Before it all started, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin signed a deal to share many nations in Eastern Europe among Germany and other Soviet states.
This led the Soviet Union and Germany to invade Poland, and in its wake, triggered the 2nd world war. The Nazis (Germans) and the Soviets were both involved in the ethnic cleansings of the Polish people. The Russians rounded up the Polish in their thousands and moved them to labor camps in the regions of Kazakhstan and Siberia.
The relationship between the Soviets and the Germans soon expired in 1941, as the Germans invaded Russia, and this led to the freeing of about 116,000 Polish people. The war was still fierce and the freed captives of Poland could not return to their war-torn country. They were then moved to Iran, which could not cater to them, and then subsequently moved by the British to Africa.
It is important to note that there was no safe place in Europe at the time. Or if they were, the British didn't trust it to hold such a large number of people for the duration of the war. The British, at that point, had several colonies in Africa, and out of their many colonies, they chose South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and a couple of other African nations to set up camps for the Polish and other Europeans who fled the war.
A filmmaker of Canadian nationality proved this story when he traveled around Africa to record a documentary of his Polish ancestors who took refuge in Africa.
His name is Jonathan Durand, and he arrived in Africa for the first time when he was a 20-years-old. He explained that he felt strangely at home. He would later be wowed at how much of his ancestry was connected to Africa. The connections were possible of genetic memory. His experience in Africa was reported by DW.
In an account of his documentary, Jonathan's grandmother, among many others, camped in a refugee region in present day Tanzania. Her name was Kazia Gerech and she was only but a child when her family settled near the foot of the Kilimanjaro mountain.
His motivation to carry out the research and produce the documentary was because there was hardly any evidence or history pertaining to that episode of European escape from WWII. His documentary resulted in a film titled "Memory Is Our Homeland", and it won the Audience Award at the Montreal International Film Festival in 2019.
In a bid to fully understand and unravel the experiences of his forbears in Africa, Jonathan traveled for 9years through Eastern Europe, the Middle East and then Africa. He learned during his journey in Africa that the local people of South Africa had good memories of the Polish people who lived amongst them. They recounted to Jonathan how the Polish people were involved in agriculture and how they mixed with the local population.
The head of the Center for Flight and Migration at a Catholic University in Germany collaborated on the story of the Polish refugees. DW reported that she said that “It was a friendly existence, side by side. Locals from Tengeru and the Poles even sometimes celebrated mass together.”
When the war ended in the September of 1945, African nations intensified their agitation and request for independence. This then meant that the Polish and other Europeans who camped in Africa, together with the colonial regimes had to leave.
After finding so much peace and calm in Africa, most of the Europeans were not ready or willing to leave, but they had to. They feared going back to their countries, which were still under Soviet rule and control.
A great number of them had to leave Africa for other countries of the world, such as Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
These events in human history have lessons for us all. Today, Africans are living the shores of Africa and migrating to Europe in search of safety and a better life. This same search for a better life was what the Europeans did during the 2nd world war. Africans accommodated them, despite the colonial suppressions and bullying at that time.
But today, we all can bear witness to the harsh conditions Black people are met with all around the world. Europe and the world at large have forgotten the great role Africa has played in the betterment of the various races of the earth.
This story is a testament to the fact that Africa is not a desolate or poor place. We are rich in resources, food, hospitality, and many more. Our only problem is that some of our neighbors (other races) on earth have chosen to stifle Africa's growth through harsh economic interferences and draconian policies. But we shall survive - we are Gods and Goddesses. We shall overcome.