Vale. Bruno Romanowski

It is fitting that the blog I write immediately after the item posted about Miet Wnorowski, is about another refugee - Bruno Romanowski. It is one of those incredible outcomes of world turmoil (WW2), that Bruno and Miet wound up working in the same organisation 12,000 miles away from their homelands.

Bruno was a Lithuanian I think, with an imposing physique.

After university, he had ambitions to become a monk or priest. To this end, he was enrolled in a monastery as a novice to an order that had chapter monasteries throughout Europe. This fact was to become crucial for Bruno and his family’s survival.

For whatever reason, studying for a religious life did not work out and by the outbreak of war Bruno was married and I think he had one child.


When Hitler tore up the Ribbentrop-Malenkov Treaty of Friendship between the Soviet Union and Germany and invaded Poland and then on through the Baltic States, Bruno was called up to fight. Before he left home, he told his wife that if she became displaced, she should make her way, as best she could, to a monastery in Southern Germany which was affiliated with Bruno’s former religious order. Once there, if she explained her connections, she would be sure to be looked after.

Georgei Zhukov

When the Soviet Army recovered from the initial German onslaught, Bruno, by virtue of his linguistic skills was attached to the general staff of none other than Russian Army supremo, Georgei Zhukov.

Of course the rape campaigns of Russian soldiers are well-known, as they fought their way westward and it appears that Zhukov was not above some pleasure-taking in that area as well. Bruno recalled that on one occasion Zhukov called for a woman to be procured for him. That was done, but aides ensured that the hapless wretch was bathed and given new clothes. That apparently was not to Zhukov’s taste and he demanded an unwashed wretch, such as his soldiers helped themselves to at every opportunity.

Cycling South

When the Soviets reached Berlin and a more formal official structure of occupation was established, Bruno’s tenure as interpreter was terminated. Anticipating that his wife had made her way as per instructions, to Southern Germany, Bruno stole a bicycle and over many days, peddled his way to the affiliated monastery. On arrival, without any means of pre-communication, Bruno was joyously reunited with his wife and young son.

Like Miet Wnorowski, having observed them first hand, Bruno had no desire to be a Soviet citizen and registered as a refugee. Apart from the Zhukov incident, Bruno made no mention to me of his wartime experiences, other than one day he described both Germans and Russians as ‘bloody bastards’.

Home in Wellington

In Wellington, he was employed like me and Miet, by the New Zealand Dairy Board and was librarian there for many years.

After Bruno retired, I visited him at home in Wellington a few times. I noted with interest that like Miet he had tried to recreate, as far as possible the life he would have had if the war had not intervened. For Miet it was his books and a happy home life with wife Fe. For Bruno, he adopted the folk dress of his homeland. His trousers were smooth velvet-type material and his shirt long and embroidered and caught ‘blouson’ with a wide leather belt.

RIP Bruno. Thanks for your friendship.