• September 20, 2019
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Tadeusz Romer – the Lithuanian Pole who saved Jews in Japan

“It was a chain of help that reached half the world” – said the Polish ambassador in Vilnius, Urszula Doroszewska, during the opening ceremony of the exhibition ‘Polish Ambassador in Japan Tadeusz Romer and Jewish war refugees in the Far East’. Opened on Thursday at the headquarters of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the exhibition presents the profile of Tadeusz Romer, the third person, next to the Japanese consul in Kaunas Chiune Sugihara and the Dutch honorary consul Jan Zwartendijk, involved in issuing the so-called ‘visas of life’ to Polish and Lithuanian Jews.

With visas from Consul Sugihara and Zwartendijka, Jews reached the shores of Japan, where they were cared for by Ambassador Romer and employees of the Polish embassy. Despite financial constraints and limited staff numbers, Mr Romer organized accommodation and medical care for the refugees, provided them with financial support, and led an intensive dialogue to help them to obtain visas for further destinations – Australia, Canada, and the United States. In later years he continued his activity in Shanghai.

“I was very surprised when I found out that Tadeusz Romer was born in the Kaunas province. It is good to see the beautiful interpersonal relationships of those times. I wish good luck to the exhibition and I would love for the relationship between Lithuanians, Poles, Japanese, Jews and the Dutch to flourish” – said the Japanese Ambassador Shiro Yamasaki at the opening of the exhibition.

As announced by the director of the Polish Institute in Vilnius, Marcin Łapczyński, after Kaunas, Vilnius and Vilkaviškis, the exhibition will also be presented in Tokyo (Japan).

“We are presenting the figure of the eminent Polish diplomat Tadeusz Romer to the Lithuanian community for the second time, we recently did it in Kaunas. We always emphasize that Tadeusz Romer was born in the Lithuanian lands, and belonged to the very well-deserved – for both Poland and Lithuania – Romer family. Thanks to his protection, about 6,000 Jews who came to Japan with his visas were saved. It was a huge enterprise that reached half the world, another stage in the chain of help – Sugihara, Zwartendijk, Romer. This is why we are very pleased with the presence of embassy representatives from Japan and the Netherlands, Germany, and Israel today” – emphasized the Polish ambassador in Lithuania, Urszula Doroszewska.

As she noted, Tadeusz Romer has not yet been awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medal. “We hope that sometime this will happen.”

The chairwoman of the Jewish community, Faina Kukliansky, noted that thanks to the exhibition, residents of Lithuania will be able to broaden their knowledge about saving Jews.

“We know the most about Chiune Sugihara, who is very popular in stories about people saving Jews. Sometimes people even forget that he did not save Lithuanian Jews, but refugees from Poland. We rarely think about why Lithuanian Jews did not ask Sugihara for visas. Perhaps the number of murders would have been much smaller. At that time, however, Polish refugees who asked for visas were frowned upon. A bit less is known about Jan Zwartendijk, [although] thanks are due to the Dutch ambassador for popularizing his name in Lithuania.

“Personally, I was very lucky to meet people whom Sugihara had saved. We know the Zwartendijk’s children who come to Lithuania. Thanks to this, we learn more and more about the history of saving Jews and issuing visas. Today we have yet another opportunity to learn about Tadeusz Romer,” – summarized the president of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

Prepared on the initiative and on behalf of the Polish Institute in Vilnius by Dr Olga Barbasiewicz from the Institute of Middle and Far East Jagiellonian University, the exhibition is the first attempt of such comprehensiveness to present the heroic actions taken by the Polish ambassador in Japan, Tadeusz Romer, in order to help Jewish refugees arriving at Japanese ports with visas issued by the Japanese consul in Kaunas, Chiuna Sugihara.

Translated by Marta Bednarczyk within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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