“Thanks to many Polish diplomats, headed by the former Polish ambassador to Japan, Tadeusz Romer, Polish Jews who lived in Japan in 1940-41, and later in Shanghai occupied by that country, avoided death,” Dr. Olga Barbasiewicz, political scientist and orientalist from the Jagiellonian University (UJ) told the Polish Press Agency (PAP).
“A whole lot of refugees fled from occupied Europe, via Vladivostok, to Japan,” said Ms Barbasiewicz, adding that they were fleeing “both from Germany and from the Russians, because the USSR authorities ordered those in the territories occupied by the Red Army to accept Soviet citizenship.”
Refugees, including Jews, were arriving to Vladivostok with transit visas from the Japanese consul in Kaunas, Chiune Sugihara. At one point, the Japanese government began to doubt whether it was doing the right thing by letting in thousands of people with only travel certificates.
“The Japanese government started asking the Polish embassy if it knew that such crowds were fleeing… Tadeusz Romer [Polish Ambassador to Japan between 1937–1941] began to guarantee the Japanese government that if it would allow Polish citizens who owned these visas, including Jews, to come to Japan, it is the Polish government that would provide them with consular protection and all possible help,” the political scientist said.
“These people, however, according to the transit visas, had to leave within a few days. Some refugees, however, stayed in Japan for up to a year, also thanks to the guarantees given by Mr Romer and Jewish aid organisations to the Japanese authorities,” she pointed out.
“It is known that 800 visas were organised by Romer himself, among others thanks to his private contacts with the US and the British ambassadors, who issued visas to the then colonies, including Palestine. The Polish Committee to Aid War Victims in Japan was established in Tokyo, chaired by Mr Romer’s wife… Members of the embassy helped as well as Polish entrepreneurs, including those from Manchuria,” the expert emphasised.
“When Japan entered the war with the US, Mr Romer… created special committees that represented the interests of Poles, including mostly Polish Jews, before the Japanese authorities,” she said, adding that it allowed him to provide those people with further “financial and consular aid.”
The Shanghai Book – the Polish consular book, in which all Poles who were then residing in Shanghai were listed, contains hundreds of names of people who were helped. “There are over 950 names. Most of them were Jews,” the expert stressed.
Ms Barbasiewicz pointed out that considering the fact that approximately 820 people left Japan directly, it can be stated that “Tadeusz Romer and the Polish government in total helped around 1,700 refugees, most of them being Polish Jews.”
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