The Polish pensioners building a World War II fighter plane


A group of men living in New South Wales are building a life-size replica of a Polish fighter plane in a bid to preserve their heritage.

On a quiet street in the Wollongong suburb of Balgownie, on New South Wales' south coast, a car garage has been transformed into a workshop.

Every Wednesday morning, a group of men meet for five or six hours and start sanding, drilling and sawing.

They are working on a life-size replica of a PZL P11z World War II Polish fighter plane.

Half-built, the plane is already longer and taller than the average minibus.

The plane is already longer than the average minibus.
The plane is already longer than the average minibus. (SBS World News)
SBS World News

Everyone involved in the project is Polish and over 70-years-old. Some had family captured and forced to work in Nazi labour camps in Germany during the war.

But as one of the men, Andrew Krajewski explained, not one of them is a professional builder.

"We have to learn, basically... everything,” Mr Krajewski told SBS World News.

“I never used power tools in my life."

The group relies on the original plans and images, but there is considerable trial and error involved.

All the men involved in the project are Polish and over 70-years-old.
All the men involved in the project are Polish and over 70-years-old. (SBS World News)
SBS World News

The replica plane is one of several heritage projects headed up by Mr Krajewski, who migrated to Australia in 1981.

After World War II, thousands of Polish migrants arrived in Australia in search of a better life and many settled in the industrial city of Wollongong.

Mr Krajewski said he is on a mission to ensure the stories of Polish migrants in the Illawara region of the state's south coast are remembered as the population ages.

"It dawned on us that there is not much recorded history about Wollongong and [the] Illawarra,” Mr Krajewski said.

“But despite that, we had numbers in Wollongong. Between '49 and '56, it was about two-and-a-half thousand Polish migrants, mainly males, single males. (There's) not much left. There is no documented history, not any books."

Mr Krajewski established a historical group within the Polish Association of Wollongong five years ago.

The plane the group hope to recreate.
The plane the group hope to recreate.

He has collected photographs, trinkets and clothing, now displayed in the lllawarra Polish Museum.

His ten-year-old grand-niece Emiliana Krajewski is a junior curator and has been interviewing Polish migrants about their experiences.

"I've been born in Australia and I live in Australia now, so I don't know [their] experience,” she said.

“I found out that it's actually hard for people. I never really thought about it...”

Emiliana Krajewski's interviews will eventually be published and become part of the museum exhibit.

The Polish Museum has only been operating for about a year and opens to the public once a month.

It is hoped the new aircraft, to be displayed outside the museum entrance, will become a major drawcard for the local community.

While the project is only halfway completed, 92-year-old Antoni Suryak is happy loaning his garage for the cause.

"I don't mind at all, I love it,” Mr Suryak said.

“We should never forget where we come from.”

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch