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Chiune Sugihara

Page 100 – A Special Fate, Chiune Sugihara, Hero of the Holocaust

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… They arrived in Prague, Czechoslovakia, by train. The consulate was an old, rococo building on the Moldau River. the interior was luxuriously furnished and had a grand crystal chandelier. Several rooms were lined with Japanese silk, one contained silver decorations, two others contained gold decorations.

As soon as he was settled, Sugihara was ordered to write a report that gave all the details of his work in Kaunas. part of his responsibility was to list the number of visas that had been stamped by his consulate. Although he delayed sending the information in, regardless of the possible repercussions, he told the truth.

Sugihara’s log showed that he’d issued more than 2,193 visas. Some of these visas were for individuals, others were for entire families, so he couldn’t accurately account for the total number of individuals who had been given visas. of course, there was also the problem that he’d stopped keeping a list in early August, so he couldn’t add up the total visas given while in Kaunas. He compiled his documents, then sent them to Tokyo.

Chiune and Yukiko worried about what would happen when these papers arrived in Japan. They lived with the anxiety of repercussions for their deeds in Kaunas.

In late September 1940, Japan and Germany—Hirohito and Hitler—signed an alliance known as the Axis tripartite pact, which meant that Berlin, Rome, and Tokyo were now allied.

Prague was a very social city with an active nightlife. It was especially lively for diplomats. There were parties. Often the diplomatic car drove them back to the consulate quite late. The city was silent except for the beautiful church bells, which could be heard throughout the entire city.

Yukiko began to relax. She started to study the German language, and also to paint on canvas. She liked prague so much that she painted the sights of the city of one Hundred Spires—the seven bridges that crossed the river, and the gargoyles with pipes protruding from their mouths, high up on St. Vitus cathedral.

When Sugihara had leisure time in Prague, he took the family for drives out into the countryside once again. they visited pine forests, castles, and forts. the children were getting older and could appreciate the sights much more than before.

One day Sugihara was told that one of Hitler’s most important foreign ministers—Joachim von Ribbentrop—was coming to Prague. Sugihara and other diplomats were sum- moned to a meeting. Sugihara dressed carefully that day.

His car drove through the city toward the meeting past the Prague castle high on a hilltop and the astronomical clock on Town Hall.

As Chiune approached the room where the meeting was being held, an unpleasant German shepherd dog blocked the door. The dog was tied to the entrance, and growled at each diplomat that passed. its master, Herr von Ribbentrop, had taken the largest, highest desk in the room. A large photograph of Hitler in uniform making the nazi salute was on the wall in an ornate frame.

Ribbentrop spoke condescendingly to the assembled diplomats, ordering them all to leave Czechoslovakia immediately. Silence followed this statement. No one had the courage to speak up except Chiune Sugihara, who broke the silence. He stood up and addressed Ribbentrop, asserting that Ribbentrop couldn’t just order them to leave.

He said that since the triple Alliance, Japan was an equal partner with Germany, not to be treated in any subordinate way. Although Hitler had, in his racist, hating way, often called Japanese people “lacquered half-monkeys” they were now his allies.

When Chiune returned home, he told Yukiko that Ambassador Oshima had instructed him to shut the consulate in Prague, and open one in Konigsberg, Germany, near the Russian border. Noticing the crease in Yukiko’s forehead, Chiune reassured her that the Kaunas visas had not been brought up in Berlin.

Chapter 28

Early one bitter, cold morning in February 1941, Zelda Bernstein woke Masha. Zelda had gotten a visa from the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, but she didn’t explain the details to Masha. She just told Masha to pack because they were leaving Vilna.

Masha was bleary from sleep and wasn’t sure she’d heard right when her mother told her they were going to Japan. They packed photos, mementos, clothing, and food in a bundle for the journey. They had honey cakes, which Masha’s cousin had baked, and cans of sardines. They took a drozka—a horse-drawn “taxi” buggy—to the Vilna train station. …

A Special Fate,

Chiune Sugihara, Hero of the Holocaust

available as a paperback and kindle on Amazon

Page 1 – A Special Fate

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*****Page 1 – Chiune Sugihara, Hero of the Holocaust*****

Chapter 1

The baby born on the first day, January 1 of the new century, 1900, was a boy. He was born on an especially cold winter day in a small town named Yaotsu on one of the straggling chains of islands in the Far east known as Japan. the boy was named Chiune Sugihara.

     There is a bit of Japanese folklore that made Chiune’s parents think that perhaps their son might be special. It’s believed that during particularly cold winter nights in Japan, a Snow Woman may appear dressed in white. She is an apparition, pale and cold like the snow, and is blamed for mysterious happenings.

     Sometimes, people say, the Snow Woman appears with a new winter baby, a baby like Chiune, in her arms. This baby is meant to have a very special fate. Perhaps their son chiune Sugihara was meant to do something special during his life.

     Summer in Yaotsu was boiling hot, so the large Sugihara family visited Grandpa and Grandma in the mountains to cool off in the pine and bamboo woods.

     Chiune had five brothers and one sister. He and his brother Toyoaki liked to  fish in the river. First they’d dig in the mud for fat worms to use as bait. Because they had no fishing lives, they’d wait for a horse and a buggy to pass by, then they’d enrage the horse by pulling hairs from its tail, using long sticks of bamboo as snags.

     The horse would bolt, but before the driver of the buggy could admonish the children, they would run away. These strong horsehairs were used as fishing lines to catch trout and other tasty fish that swam in the Kiso River. Even as a small boy, chiune was a strong swimmer who could cross the entire width of the Kiso, which nestles beside Yaotsu.

     Late in the day, after fishing, Chiune and the other children played a new game that had come to Japan from America. it was called “baseball” in English and “yakyuu” in Japanese, and young Sugihara was a natural player. Even though old-fashioned people referred to baseball as “the pickpocket’s sport,” he especially loved stealing home. They feared that “stealing” would corrupt their youth. Unlike American baseball uniforms, Japanese children wore brightly colored kimonos and clogs that made running difficult.

     At the end of the day, tired and hungry from fishing and baseball, chiune and his friends often took the short route back home across the rice paddies. They passed workers who were bent over cultivating the rice. These workers wore broad-brimmed straw hats and had rush mats tied on their backs to protect them from the strong sun.

     Not so far away from Yaotsu, the Russo-Japanese War was being fought. Both Russia and Japan had imperialistic designs on Manchuria and Korea. Japan had attacked the city in Southern Manchuria called port Arthur in May 1904, starting the war. Although the Japanese were happy because their army had captured port Arthur and defeated the Russians at Mukden, many boys from Yaotsu had died. The whole town mourned the ash-filled urns sent back to Yaotsu instead of their young sons.

     Chiune’s father, Mitsugoro Sugihara, was the emperor’s local tax collector. His mother, Yatsu, was the town beauty and had come from Samurai ancestry. Samurai had long been known as great warriors and aristocrats. Chiune admired the Samurai spirit, so he pleased his parents by throwing himself into his studies and bringing home report cards with very high grades.

     Japanese children were taught a code in school. it had three laws: (a) Do not be a burden to others; (b) Take care of others; (c) Do not expect rewards for your goodness. Chiune memorized these laws and could say them by heart. But, he wondered, would he be able to live up to such high ideals?

     Two earth-shattering events marked Chiune’s early years. In 1910, his father began to work for the Japanese government in faraway Korea. From then on, his father was rarely at home. And, in 1912, on July 30, emperor Mutsuhito of Japan died. Within two years the two men he idolized most had been taken away from him.

     Some people in Japan believe that the spirit departs from the body at the time of death and takes the form of a bluish-white ball of fire with a tail. After the Emporer’s death, many claimed to have seen his spirit hovering over rooftops at night, or thought they’d seen the Emperor’s spirit in shooting stars. Chiune kept a watchful eye open in case he, too, got a glimpse of the Emperor’s spirit.

     Mitsugoro Sugihara left government service in 1915 because he’d developed an interest in speculating in Korea. He did not return to Japan. Instead he opened an inn in the Korean countryside outside of the city of Seoul.

     In spite of the physical distance between them, Chiune’s father was determined that his son would become a doctor. But, as Chiune got a little older and went to high school, he realized that he did not want to be a doctor at all. He wanted to become a teacher. When he admitted this to his father, his father became furious.

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[A Special Fate, Chiune Sugihara, Hero of the Holocaust is available on Amazon as a paperback book or a kindle, written for ages 1-14 or anyone else]

More on Sugihara from USA Today

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Two articles written by the journalist Kirk Spitzer have appeared in USA Today. Here’s a short excerpt from the first and the complete article relating to Chiune Sugihara, the subject of my interview with Mr. Spitzer and my book A Special Fate, Chiune Sigihara, Hero of the Holocaust, recently reissued by TMI Press.

[Excerpt]

Japan opens pocketbook, but not doors, to refugees in Europe; Japanese “Schindler” honored decades after WWI by Kirk Spitzer, USA TODAY

TOKYO — It should have been no surprise when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a major increase in financial support last week for migrants flooding into Western Europe — but no change in his country’s restrictive policy toward those seeking refuge in Japan. For decades, Japan has been one of the world’s biggest contributors to international relief organizations, spending billions of dollars to help people fleeing wars, poverty and natural disasters worldwide. Yet Japan also has been one of the least welcoming nations to refugees. Of 5,000 foreigners who requested political asylum in Japan last year, only 11 were granted safe haven, an acceptance rate that is 1/100th of the world average…

[Second article, complete]

Japanese ‘Schindler’ honored decades after WWII
Kirk Spitzer, USA TODAY EDT October 7, 2015

TOKYO — As world attention is focused on the plight of migrants fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, a Japanese diplomat who risked everything to save thousands of Jewish refugees during World War II is finally getting his due.

Chiune Sugihara was Japan’s vice consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, when he defied government orders and issued travel visas allowing thousands of Jewish refugees to escape Nazi persecution in 1940. He later resigned under pressure from the Foreign Ministry and spent years in self-imposed exile.

Sugihara issued more than 2,000 visas and saved more than 6,000 lives. He wrote many of the documents by hand during a feverish five-week period, passing the last out of the window of his train after his consulate was closed and he was ordered to leave the country.

“Sugihara is proof that one person’s choice to take action in the face of evil — whatever the consequences — can make a difference,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Though considered a heroic figure in Israel and elsewhere overseas, Sugihara is not widely known in Japan. That seems likely to change.

A government advisory panel recommended last month that documents relating to Sugihara — known as “Japan’s Schindler” — be submitted to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, a compendium of key historical documents.

An exhibition devoted to Sugihara and Holocaust victim Anne Frank will open in Tokyo this week. A movie based on Sugihara’s life is scheduled to open this year.

Many of the refugees aided by Sugihara were on the run from Nazi persecution in Germany and Poland. They were able to travel on the visas he issued to Japan, then onward to safe havens in China, the USA and elsewhere.

Sugihara, who was forced out of Japan’s foreign service after the war ended, spent many years working and teaching overseas. A small museum is dedicated to his memory in his hometown in central Japan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an apology to his widow and family in 1991 and later dedicated a plaque in his honor at the ministry headquarters in Tokyo.

Historian Alison Leslie Gold, author of A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara: Hero of the Holocaust, said it is time that a wider audience learns of Sugihara’s courage and self-sacrifice.

“There are a few folks in history, like Chiune Sugihara … whose human values trump practicality or their own safety,” she said. “Because of them, people like us can see it’s possible to swim against the stream, throw caution to the wind, at times of moral crisis.”

Honored in Japan

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A few days ago my publisher forwarded this email to me relating to Chiune Sugihara who was the Japanese Consul-General in Lithuania in 1939. I had published a book for middle-school-age kids called A Special Fate, Chiune Sugihara, Hero of the Holocaust about him. In defiance of orders from his own government, Sugihara had issued visas round-the-clock for twenty-nine days in summer of 1940 to Jews fleeing Hitler. By doing so, he destroyed his career, his future, and the future of his family. He did not know at the time whether or not his visas had helped anyone. Then, in 1969, he was located by a survivor who had unsuccessfully been  searching for him for years and learned that his visas had saved more than 6,000 lives. Subsequently he was recognized and honored in Israel, the US, Europe and elsewhere but not in Japan. Until now. Here’s the email exchange:

Dear Sirs,

This is Kirk Spitzer, Tokyo correspondent for USA TODAY.

I would like to request a brief telephone or email interview with Alison Leslie Gold in connection with a news article that I am preparing on Chiune Sugihara. I know that Ms. Gold has written an excellent book on Sugihara and I believe her views and perspective would be very helpful.

As you probably know, the government of Japan has decided to request Sugihara’s inclusion in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register; an exhibition dedicated to Sugihara and Anne Frank is scheduled to open in Tokyo early next month, as well. This is particularly newsworthy given the refugee crisis in Europe, and given Japan’s continuing poor record on granting asylum to refugees.

My questions for Ms. Gold are pretty basic:

1. What made you interested in writing about Sugihara?
2. How well-known is Sugihara’s story, both in Japan and overseas — and why is he not better-known?
3. Are you surprised that it has taken the Japanese government this long to acknowledge Sugihara’s efforts to save Jewish refugees during World War II?
4. Why does Japan have such a poor record of accepting refugees compared to other developed countries?

That’s about it. Please let me know if Ms. Gold will be available for an interview or an exchange of emails. Thank you.

Best,
Kirk

Actually, I hadn’t known about Sugihara’s inclusion in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register; nor the exhibition. Good for Japan and UNESCO.

Dear Kirk,

My publisher forwarded your email to me. I’d be happy to discuss Sugihara with you. As it happens, I’m in Greece on an island. Maybe it would be best for me to answer the four questions you presented by email… I’m very glad to know that Mr. Sugihara will be included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register exhibition…

1. At the time I wrote A Special Fate, Chiune Sugihara, Hero of the Holocaust, I was neck deep in subject matter relating to WWII and Holocaust, having recently published two books on Anne Frank (Anne Frank Remembered written with Miep Gies, who helped to hide Anne Frank and saved Anne’s Diary, and Memories of Anne Frank Reflections of a Childhood Friend, about Anne and her best friend Hannah Goslar – called Lies – pronounced ‘Lease’ – in the diary. Both were translated into more than 20 languages. I met Eric Saul, a driven historian, who had begun promoting Mr. Sugihara and had unearthed other Diplomats like him who had risked everything to help refugees. Through Eric, I met Mrs. Sugihara and some of their family, and was inspired by their story. At the time there was a sense that girls/woman read books and boys/men didn’t. I wanted to write something that might be more of a boy’s/man’s book, thus Sugihara. Through Eric I met Solly Ganor, the then 11 year old boy who meets Mr. Sugihara in a Kovno shop and invites him to his home for a Jewish celebration. Thus, I was able to include Solly’s story, threaded through with Mr. Sugihara as well as the story of Marsha Leon, a 9 year old girl from Warsaw whose mother got Sugihara visas, and thus survived, whom I also found. (Btw: Both Eric and Solly are still alive… Solly has written a searing account of his wartime life Light One Candle: A Survivor’s Tale from Lithuania to Jerusalem 1st Pbk edition by Ganor Recently I visited Kovno, Lithuania with a close friend and we made a kind of pilgrimage to the house/consulate Sugihara used while writing those many visas during that hot August. There’s a modest museum there now and it was quite moving to take the arduous walk uphill through the woods to the consulate as did all the refugees those many years ago…

2. I don’t know why Sugihara’s story is not better known. My book did not sell well. (By coincidence, It’s just being re-issued with a new Author’s Note, by TMI Press and is available on Amazon.com.) The iconic story of diplomatic rescue seems to remain Wallenberg. Like Sugihara, there are other stories as dramatic and successful with grave jeopardy for the issuer. I can only say that it should be better known especially at a time like this when masses of refugees as desperate and panicked as they were then, also  fleeing for their lives

3. Better late than never. I understand why the government had been hesitant before, but am very glad they’re awakening to the importance of Sugihara. They should be very proud of him, and “keep him safe under their wing” as Sugihara tried to do in respect to the Jewish and other refugees who needed help long ago. I hope this new appreciation of Sugihara will only increase in Japan and worldwide He’s a great role model.

4. I really don’t know anything about Japan’s refugee attitudes.

Hope this is helpful. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can add. …Good luck.

Alison

Kirk Spitzer responded:

Thank you, this is very helpful.

Let me ask one follow-up: What is the major lesson to be learned from Sugihara’s experience? He seemed to have sacrificed so much, for people who didn’t even know…

Never comfortable when asked for wisdom or “summing up” I replied:

Lesson? Thankfully there are a few folks in history, like Chiune Sugihara and Miep Gies, whose human values trump practicality or their own safety. Because of them, people like us can see that it’s possible to swim against the stream, throw caution to the wind, at times of moral crisis. When people asked Miep what she stood for, or if there was a ‘lesson’ in what she did, she would tell them: “You don’t have to be special to help someone. In my mind, it was my human duty.”

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Photos: (top) Israeli stamp honoring Sugihara (color photo) fleeing Syrian refugees 2015 (black and white photo) fleeing German Jewish refugees 1939

 

Soup, a salad and two true stories

The new TMI’s reissues are:

Two novels:

1. The Devil’s Mistress

The story of the woman who lived and died with Hitler — Eva Braun.

(The soup)

2. Clairvoyant, The Imagined Life of Lucia Joyce

The story of James Joyce’s daughter who she was diagnosed as schizophrenic and spent over 40 years in mental hospitals though her father believed that she was a genius, like him, and that she was a clairvoyant who could see beyond normal reality.

(The salad)

Two nonfictions:

A Special Fate, Chiune Sugihara, Hero of the Holocaust

The story of the Japanese diplomat who went against his government’s orders and saved over 5000 Jews who were running for their lives to escape Hitler, and, by doing so, destroyed his career and future written for ages 10 – 14 but accessible to anyone.

Fiet’s Vase and Other Stories of Survival, Europe 1939-1945

25 true stories of survival by Jews and others during World War II