By Robin Waldman
This post was originally published on 4/22/2011. Text Message Blog Editors updated this post on 04/27/2023.
From 1943 to 1946, Colonia Santa Rosa in Guanajuato, Mexico was the site of a US-government sponsored home for Polish refugees. About 240 miles northwest of Mexico City and “10 minutes’ ride by mule-drawn tram from the Leon railway station,” the hacienda included a 39-room ranch house, a flour mill, ten wheat storage warehouses, a chapel and other buildings, as well as several acres for growing crops. By October 1943, almost 1,500 Poles were sheltered at Colonia Santa Rosa.
Their path to Mexico was an unlikely one. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded, and subsequently annexed, Poland in September 1939. The Soviets killed, imprisoned, and deported Poles to forced labor camps in Russia and Siberia during this occupation. The Polish refugees who eventually settled at Colonia Santa Rosa had been forcibly removed to a Siberian labor camp, then relocated to Iran, and eventually fell into the care of the British government. The British relocated them to camps in Karachi, then still a part of India, and sought US assistance for their support. An agreement was reached between the British, US and Mexican governments with the provisional Polish government in London to relocate these refugees to Mexico. There they were cared for through US aid.
At the Colonia, school classes were organized for the children, as well as recreational activities like Boy Scouts. Adults learned new trades and cared for the crops and animals. But the same agreement that had allowed for the creation of the Colonia also stipulated its closure following the end of the war, and the refugees knew they must prepare for another immigration. As a May, 1945 report on the community of Santa Rosa stated,
“The only real solution to a refugee’s future is to build him a bridge as quickly and as firmly as possible to the shore of permanent and successful resettlement, wherever it may be.”
When the camp was closed on December 31, 1946, the refugees were resettled in the United States. Orphaned children were placed privately with American Polish families, and in orphanages. Older girls were found domestic positions. Families were sponsored through Catholic and private American groups, particularly the Polish American Council. Many refugees were reunited with family members who came to the United States through different immigration paths. Most eventually became American citizens.
All photographs and quotations in this post are from the Foreign Economic Administration’s (FEA) “Records Relating to the Polish Refugee Camp in Colonia Santa Rosa, Mexico,” 1942-1945 (NAID 1692879). Additional information about the Colonia can also be found in other FEA series, and in records of the Department of State (RG 59, 84, 169).