Flames burst upward like solar flares, devouring the tall blades of elephant grass, and morphing into clouds of thick, black smoke that drift into the sky. Animals struck with confusion and fear scamper across the African grasslands to safety, and people nervously watch from their huts as the raging flames approach the Polish settlement in Masindi, Uganda.
Among those observing the horrific scene is a young Polish boy named Romuald Kubisz, taking in all of the chaos through his eight-year-old eyes, that have already seen so much.
The day following the great fire, Kubisz leaves school and heads out into the grasslands to collect some pepperfruit with his twin brother Krzysztof and their friend Czesiek. As the boys wander amid the incinerated brush, a wisp of smoke rising from a burnt log catches Kubisz’s eye. He sees an opportunity to roast their peppers if they use the smoking embers to start a fire. The boys begin piling brush onto the log and with help from the wind, a fire catches. The flames continue to grow at an uncontrollable speed. Not knowing what to do, the boys stand around the fire in total panic, until they hear a noise coming from behind them.
Running towards them, waving his arms and shouting hysterically, is Joseph, the native watchman and policeman of the settlement. The boys run off as fast as they can, leaving Joseph to tame the merciless blaze on his own. They have escaped punishment, but only temporarily. They arrive home hours later to find Joseph, standing in front of their hut along with Mrs. Kubisz, who has look of severe displeasure strewn across her face.
“He [Joseph] must have recognized me, as this was certainly not our first encounter – I was quite the rascal,” says Kubisz with a chuckle, while sipping a hot cup of tea in the living room of his Toronto home.
Kubisz’s childhood in Masindi is a story filled with countless antics and adventures. His memories from nearly 75 years ago as a Pole forcibly displaced by the Soviets have not faded, and still shock those whom he shares them with.
Kubisz, like many other Poles in the wake of the Second World War, had his fate chosen for him. Poland’s territory was heavily sought after by major military powers, however, its population was not valued in the same way – resulting in mass deportations that would ultimately be the first step in the dispersion of hundreds of thousands of Poles around the world.
It has been 75 years since the commencement of the second World War, and with no shortage of stories emerging from those six years of tragedy, there are still many that have been left untold. It is a widely unknown history, that is, the existence of Polish settlements in Africa. While much attention and emphasis has been rightfully placed on the Jewish Polish community and the tremendous discrimination and suffering that they faced, few know about what happened to other groups of Poles, particularly Christians from the eastern part of the country, and about how the first modern refugee camps in Africa were in fact for white Europeans.