Hungarian doctors in the land of the Papuans

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A Papuan village near Kutubu Lake

“Few people know that in the heroic period of discovering Papua New Guinea — apart from Hungarian missionaries — many Hungarian doctors also resided on the island, more concretely on its east side under the governance of Australia. […] During the Second World War, amongst the many fleeing to the West were hundreds of Hungarian doctors. Unfortunately, they could not attain medical jobs, because most countries did not accept their degrees. This was the situation in Australia, where Hungarian doctors could at best work as hospital carers or assistants. But a special situation emerged in the Australian side of Papua New Guinea. During the Pacific war the Japanese occupied the whole area, and the Europeans fled, together with them all doctors. After the war only very few were venturesome enough to return to the dauntingly miserable conditions, therefore on the 462.000 square kilometers area of Papua New Guinea the 2,5 million indigenous inhabitants were left without any reasonable medical care. In the end of the 1940s, Australian authorities decided to permit refugee doctors from Hungary and other foreign countries to professional activities in New Guinea. […] Altogether 15 Hungarian doctors went to New Guinea in the early 1950s. Not all of them could accustom themselves to the harsh conditions, and after a shorter or longer period these returned to Australia. However, 7 of them committed themselves to the sacrificing mission and the majority spent 20–22 years amongst the Papuans.” (Kászoni 1990: 58, 61)

papua-new-guinea-hungarian-doctors.jpgThe working districts of Hungarian doctors: 1. Dr. András Becker; 2. Dr. Károly Haszler; 3. Dr. János Loschdorfer; 4. Dr. Károly Mészáros; 5. Dr. Lajos Róth; 6. Dr. Alajos Szymicsek; 7. Dr. Ferenc Tuza.

Kászoni, Dénes (1990): Magyar orvosok a pápuák földjén. Földrajzi Múzeumi Tanulmányok, 8: 58–61.

Reklámok

The geography of the Nazi deportation of Jews and other ethnicities in Eastern Europe

Die_'großzügigste_Umsiedlungsaktion'_with_Poland_superimposed,_1939.jpg

Nazi propaganda poster of the Third Reich in 1939 (dark grey) after the conquest of Poland. It depicts pockets of German colonists resettling into Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany from Soviet controlled territories during the “Heim ins Reich” action. The outline of Poland (here superimposed in red) was missing from the original poster. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generalplan_Ost

“The further east the Jewish communities were located the shorter was their path to the place of annihilation. Within the Soviet Union where the Jewish communities were hardly organized effectively within a ghetto, the Jewish population was usually summoned by the SS men and executed near the town where they were concentrated. In Poland where the ghettos and Jewish self-government had existed for several years, the Germans took precautions not to annoy the Jews by the executions in the vicinity of the towns but disposed of them in secret and distant extermination camps. In this way the Germans could secure initially the cooperation of the Jewish Councils which readily supplied the requested quotas “for resettlement and work in the East” from the overpopulated, starved, and disease-ridden ghettos.

The Nazis went to greater pains to preserve the appearance of “enlistment for work” in other countries under their occupation and especially in their satellites. In some cases there were regular contracts offered to the semi-independent governments which provided for the delivery of Jews for the “work in the German East” and these even included a clause for eventual return if the governments concerned wanted them back. The “enlisted” Jews were then transported eastward, sometimes as far as Riga and Minsk, but usually to the closer extermination camps in Poland. Sometimes to show off Germany as a “cultured nation,” the Nazis transported the Western Jews in luxurious pullman trains and supplied them with fancy camping equipment (like tents and field-kitchens) which, of course, were taken away at the place of destination.”

Kamenetsky, Ihor (1961): Secret Nazi Plans for Eastern Europe. New York: Bookman Associates. 168–169.

How the Polish gold train got stuck in French Africa during WWII

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I just read about the Polish banker and economist Leon Barański (1895-1982), who worked as an expert and permanent representative of the World Bank in Ghana during 1962-1964. Then through his biography, I bumped into this epic story of how the Polish Bank tried to save its gold during World War Two, a process which Barański organized as the bank director. This was a truly geographical history: the plan was to evacuate the gold from France to the United States of America. In August 1939, the Polish Central Bank had gold resources with a value of 463.6 million zlotys, ca. 87 million USD, weighing 79.5 tonnes. Most of the bank’s treasury got transported to Romania, then from Constanza to Turkey to Syria to Lebanon (then French colony) to France. But the Romanians left 4 tonnes in the National Bank of Romania, where it survived the war. The Communists who ruled Poland had no knowledge of the gold in Romania, which was hid in the Tismana Monastery on Starmina Mountain, and this news only reached Warsaw in October 1945. A complicated lawsuit and negotiation commenced until the gold finally arrived in Warsaw on 18 September 1947.

But in France, as the Germans were occupying the country during 1940, the Polish gold was only sent out from the country on 17 June, and not to the USA or the French Antilles, but to Dakar in West Africa, and further to Fort Kayes (Mali) deep in the French Sahara. After the French surrendered on 22 June, the emigré Polish Bank’s demands to retrieve the gold from the French proved effortless, and de Gaulle’s Vichy Government, which promised to return the gold, failed to take possession of Dakar. Since the French later denied that the gold was still in West Africa, the Polish made the US government sue the Banque de France and seize its assets in New York. In the fall of 1942, after the invasion of North-West Africa by the Allied Forces under operation “Torch”, one of the directors of the Polish Bank, Major Stefan Michalski, was sent on a mission to Algiers on 13 February 1943 to find out if the Polish gold was still in West Africa. Eventually the French admitted it was in Kayes, and after Polish inspection the gold was transported back to Dakar in 1944, so it may head off to the USA. However, the French Committee of National Liberation debated the release of the gold by arguing that if the Polish government-in-exile were not able to return to Poland and a Russian-backed government were established there, then this government would undoubtedly ask for the return of the Polish Bank’s gold. Eventually the gold was taken over by a special committee of the Polish Bank led by director Michalski in February and March 1944.

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The Sahara in Algeria. Photo: National Digital Archive

You can read more about this history here:

https://www.nbp.pl/…/Bankoteka_4_September_2014_internet.pdf
Rojek, W. (2000): Odyseja skarbu Rzeczypospolitej. Wyd. Literackie, Kraków.
https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Bara%C5%84ski_(bankier)