"Cherry Bloossoms and Beautiful Young Japanese Girls in Kimonos. A Totally Different World” - the Story of Chiune Sugihara and Tadeusz Romer
Before the War, Estera and Michał Weyland, their son Marcel and their daughters Halina and Maryla, lived in Łódż. "My father came from Zgierz and mum from Kalisz. At home, we spoke only Polish. I barely knew any Yiddish. To me, it was a foreign language. Our family was not especially religious. My father was a manufacturer, specialising in chemicals. In Poland, he was the representative of the Danish company Arkus Olje Fabrik”, said Marcel Weyland in an interview for the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. His mother looked after their home.
When the War broke out, the whole family decided to flee east. Halina's husband, Bolesław Jakubowicz went with them. Into a small car, they packed jewellery, share certificates and a few essential items. Their route took them through Warsaw and Lublin to Wilno, where they remained for several months. Marcel was sent to a Jewish school there, where the language of instruction was Yiddish - a language Marcel did not understand. So, after a short period, he was moved to a school run by the Polish underground.
At that time, Wilno was under Soviet occupation. Had the Weyland family taken Soviet citizenship, they would have been able to stay there permanently. "My parents declined this honour," said Marcel Weyland. They decided to travel further eastward. Shortly after, they obtained visas to enter South America but, in order to get there, they needed transit visas.
They received these from Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Consul in Kowno, known for assisting Jews. Marcel explained, "Sugihara asked his government to provide these. Without them, it would not be possible to get away from the Russians. Sugihara apparently knew the fate that threatened Jews in Poland and everywhere in Europe. He first asked his goverment for permission for these visas to be granted by Japan. The government refused. They didn't want to be burdened with us. It was then that he gave us the permits, as we had another goal. We wouldn't remain in Japan".
In April 1940, the family began its train journey to Japan. "I remember how we travelled through Moscow. They told us that the train would stop there and would stay they for several hours and that it would leave at five o'clock. [...] We went off to see the cathedral and the Kremlin, and casually returned an hour before the planned departure. But there was no train- it had left. Fortunately, there was a taxi at the station and so we chased after the train in that taxi and caught it at the next station. Somehow, we managed to get back onto the train. Over the next three weeks, the train passed through Sverdlovsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, around the Baikal River to Birobidzhan”.
Along the way, in Vladivostok, they were subjected to a border search. At first, a soldier took all the valuables which they still had. To everyone's surprise, after a moment, he gave them all back to Marcel's mother, when he noticed, on her papers, that that day was actually her birthday.
The Weyland family reached Japan by ocean liner. They could remain there legally for ten days, but they actually stayed in the country for seven months. The JOINT organisation found them somewhere to stay. Marcel recalls how he was charmed by Japan. "There were cherry blossoms. Everything was truly beautiful and sunny. There were beautiful Japanese girls in kimonos. It was a totally different world.”. When the Japanese government realised that the Weyland family were staying there illegally, they were given five days in which to leave the island.
They sailed to Shanghai. At that time, they were helped by Tadeusz Romer, the Polish Consul in Japan. He was actively supporting Jewish escapees from Poland. Following the closure of the Polish diplomatic offices in Japan in the autumn of 1941, Romer went to Shanghai.
Marcel recalls that "Count Romer was a very good person. He did a great deal for us and travelled to Shanghai with us. He organisaed schools there”. In Shanghai, the Weyland family lived in a camp for stateless persons. Shortly after their arrival, Michał Weyland died. Marcel attended a Jewish school there and learned English. His sister Maryla managed to go to Sydney. After a certain period, the rest of the family joined her there.
Marcel Weyland has lived the rest of his life in Australia. He only returned to Poland on his first visit in 1980. For over fifty years, he has been occupied with translating Pan Tadeusz into the English language, as well as translating other Polish poetic works. In 2013, he was presented with the Gloria Artis award for his translations of Polish poetry.