Fate brings mates together
NORTHERN Beaches Second World War refugees Jo Plewinski and Frank Dudny have reunited after 71 years since arriving in New Zealand as refugees.
In November we interviewed Jo on the 70th anniversary of his arrival in Pahiatua after a harrowing journey from a Siberian work camp.
Frank, an avid Mid North Coast golfer, was shown the article by a golfing friend and immediately made contact with Jo.
Jo and Frank were in school together in New Zealand, after taking the same journey from a Siberian work camp in the Second World War.
"It was like I was reading my own story when I read the article," Frank said.
"To be living in the same area and meet after all these years is extraordinary."
Frank recalled that he was just five years old and living in Poland when the war broke out.
It was 1939 and Frank, his father, grandmother and two older brothers were part of the 1.7 million Polish nationals shipped to work camps in Siberia.
After being herded like cattle into wagons and travelling in horrid conditions, the family arrived at the work camp, where they spent two years working for the Russian army.
Frank described the endless winters with little food and filthy conditions.
When Russia joined the Allies in 1942 the work camps were abolished and Frank and his family were free - but with nowhere to go.
The family decided to head south to what was known then as Persia.
On the journey, Frank's father and grandmother died, leaving Frank and his brothers to continue their journey alone.
In Tehran they found a refugee camp before finally being accepted by the New Zealand government to come as a refugee, where he and almost 800 other refugee children spent their childhood and completed their schooling.
It was here he met Jo Plewinski.
Jo said he had fond memories of his schooling days, learning English and playing against older boys in rugby.
"We were primary students and would play the secondary school - we had no training but we were tough young fellas," Jo said.
"They were good days."
After school, Jo relocated to Auckland and Frank moved to Wellington and the pair lost contact.
Frank and Jo then moved to Australia in the early 1980s.
Frank said it was "by fate" the childhood friends have met again after 66 years.
"We have both been living in Coffs Harbour for 30 years and we never saw each other," he said.
"Joe was working in a sawmill in Woolgoolga and I was in Coffs Harbour - we've probably passed each other in the street."
Frank and Jo continue to meet regularly.