Surviving Objects: Background Information

Surviving Objects engages with the British-Polish diasporic and refugee experience. Its main focus is on the marginalized deportation narratives of the post-war British-Polish community. Additionally, the project serves to document - through a combination of live and mediated performance-based strategies - a particular aspect of Polish diasporic history, one that intersects with British Colonial and African histories. As such, it is of interest to a range of both academic and non-academic communities.

The project uses documentary performance and story telling, deploying original primary sources (including photographs, recordings and objects) to investigate, theorize and contextualize childhood refugee experience and memories, including those of my mother. She is one of 30,000 Polish refugees who were settled in refugee camps across Africa during World War 2. Most of them were women and children, and some were the families of Polish soldiers fighting with the Allied Forces. Many were survivors of the 1939/1940 Soviet deportations to Siberia, where tens of thousands of the inhabitants of Eastern Poland suffered 'resettlement' and forced labour.

My mother's journey traced a path from Uzbekistan, through Persia, to Bwana M'Kubwa in Africa, where a British-run refugee camp had been set up. Bwana M'Kubwa is near Ndola, a town in Zambia, then part of Rhodesia. It is in the Copperbelt Province of Africa and was then the site of an inactive copper mine, the oldest in that region. Both the British Colonial and African contexts frame this partly autobiographical project within a series of competing yet intersecting narratives. These engage with concepts of nationhood, identity and displacement.

I am specifically interested in the period spent by my mother in the refugee camp at Bwana M'Kubwa ('Great Master') and especially its richly evocative location, linked as it was to the Slave Trade. Thus, Bwana M'Kubwa is a site across which a range of narratives associated with displacement and diaspora intersect. These narratives are characterized by themes of conflict and trauma. Contrasting with this, my mother's memories also evoke themes of protection, solace and redemption. The performance uses objects and photographs belonging to her, which act as triggers to recollection. The project engages innovatively with concepts of translation and identity formation. These have been prominent in my previous work. Through this work I have sought to intervene in debates concerning multi-culturalism.

Teresa Murjas is a Senior Lecturer in Theatre & Performance at the University of Reading.

Her work emphasizes historiography, performance analysis, archival research, translation and performance-led research. She translates and stages play texts written in Polish, many of which have not previously been translated into English. She has focused her attention on late nineteenth and early twentieth century European theatre, specifically Polish theatre and the work of a range of practitioners, including Gabriela Zapolska, Stanisław Przybyszewski, Leopold Staff, Włodzimierz Perzyński and Tadeusz Rittner. See Invisible Country: Four Polish Plays (Bristol/Chicago: Intellect, 2013); Zapolska's Women: Three Plays by Gabriela Zapolska (Bristol/ Chicago: Intellect, 2009); The Morality of Mrs. Dulska by Gabriela Zapolska (Bristol/Chicago: Intellect, 2007). Teresa teaches Polish Film & Theatre at Reading and her research in the area of Holocaust representation is evolving (see 'I suggest a night at the theatre, Mr. Cameron: Memory, History and Responsibility' in Our Class (Nasza Klasa, 2009)' Contemporary Theatre Review, 21:4, 2011, 487-510).

Information about the Soviet Deportations can be found by following this link to the virtual Kresy-Siberia Museum:

The direct link to information about Polish refugees in Africa can be found here:

Information in Polish about the deportations can be accessed here (sections of this website are available in English):

A range of publications about deported children and their families can be purchased online:

Information about Bwana M'Kubwa can be accessed here:

Things to do now

Page navigation

See also

Book tickets for Surviving Objects


Search Form

A-Z lists