Romer Tadeusz and Zofia

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The Story of Tadeusz and Zofia Romer

Tadeusz Romer was a pro-independence Polish politician, a public official and an émigré activist. He held high public positions, including Polish Ambassador to Japan (1937–1941), High Commissioner for Refugees in Shanghai, Polish Ambassador to the USSR (1942–1943) and Minister for Foreign Affairs in Stanisław Mikołajczyk's government-in-exile.

Romer was born in 1894 in Antonosz in the Kowieński province. He was raised in the traditions of a Polish Kresy estate, the foundations of which were honour, rebel traditions, heroic sacrifice for Homeland, faith and a respect for the Church.

As a young man, Romer was active in the regaining and maintaining of Polish independence. During his law and politics studies in Freiburg and Lausanne, Romer became Secretary of the Swiss General Committee to Aid War Victims in Poland (together with Henryk Sienkiewicz and Ignacy Jan Paderewski). He was a member of the Polish National Committee in Paris (together with Roman Dmowski). Romer was dedicated to Poland and to the service of Polish citizens in need of help.

In the 1920's, he worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a diplomat in Paris, Rome and Portugal. He left for Tokyo as a member of the Sejm but, on 2nd November 1937, he presented his credentials to Emperor Hirohito as the Polish Ambassador to Japan. He headed the Embassy during a period of unusually heated political tension and in a growing atmosphere of war. He resisted Japanese pressure against Poland joining the Anti-Comintern Pact, thereby taking a position on the Sino-Japanese War.

Following the outbreak of World War II, the Polish diplomatic mission continued to function representing the Polish Government-in-Exile. Letters from Poles, who had been sent deep into the Soviet Union, began pouring into the Embassy. These Poles described the dramatic circumstances of their lives and asked for help. In response, a social welfare department was soon established inside the Embassy. From the beginning of 1941, material aid began being sent to Polish citizens inside the USSR.

At the same time, war refugees began arriving in Japan from Eastern Europe. From the first days of August 1940 until 1941, 2,185 individuals arrived in Japan, including over 2,000 Jews, mainly from the Wilna and Kowno regions. But they also came from other parts of Poland (e.g. Marcel Weyland and his family). Most often, they came via Vladyvostok, armed only with a fake Dutch destination visa to the island of Curaçao or with a Japanese transit visa provided by Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, working together with Polish intelligence.

In October 1940, in Tokyo, Ambassador Romer appointed a Polish Committee to Aid War Victims, which was chaired by his wife, Zofia Romer. A Committee respresentative would greet refugees arriving at the Tsuruga interchange port. From there, with the help of Jewish organisations JOINT and HICEM, Jews would be sent to nearby Kobe, Yokohama or to Tokyo. There, they would be given health and welfare aid and a cultural life was organised for them. Committee members acted as intermediaries in establishing contact with families and, most importantly, in assisting in obtaining passports and visas.

Romer managed all of the refugee care activities. The majority of his time and effort was involved in intervening with the Japanese authorities regarding the extension of Japanese and transit visas, as well as in obtaining destination visas. Thanks to these effrorts, Romer was able to provide a significant number of Jewish refugees from Poland and Lithuania with asylum visas, among them, 250 to Canada. All visas were individually allocated by Ambassador Romer and under his responsibility. In addition, with the assistance of the Embassy, around 400 visas were able to be provided to Palestine,about 300 to the United States and around 100 to Central and South American countries.

In September and October 1941, due to an official break in diplomatic relations between Japan and the Sikorski government, Embassy staff were transferred to Shanghai. There, the Committee continued its activities of providing help to refugees – more. It was then that the so-called Shanghai Ledger was written contained the personal details of all individuals who were helped.

After 1945,  Zofia and Tadeusz Romer did not return to Poland. They first went to London and then later to Canada where Tadeusz Romer worked at McGill University in Montreal and served as President of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences from 1963 to 1978.