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A Special Fate

May 18th, a triple blessing

FC0E3CD0-0740-4B89-8FB2-C59BF0CF0074Three people who are precious to me will celebrate their birthdays on May 18th.

First: My beloved sister Nancy (photo left, standing in front of our old Junior High School during a recent trip down memory lane) who owns and runs the beguiling Arbor B & B in High Falls, New York, less than two hours from the city, smack in the center of the alluring beauty of the countryside. Remember the waterfalls into which Natalie Wood flings herself in ‘Splendor in the Grass’? That’s High Falls; the dramatic falls a two minute walk from the Arbor – its gardens, it’s crisp sheets, it’s enfolding duvets and squeaky swing on front porch. Marc Chagal spent the war years in High Falls after barely escaping from the grasping fingers of Hitler’s goons. And, until you’ve tasted Nancy’s breakfast of Herbed Eggs, you  haven’t lived, as I hadn’t, until I did. We know and love each other longer than anyone else in both our lives who remains alive. How lucky I am!

Second: My dear friend Marianne Ihlen. Here’a a photo of Marianne only a few weeks before her recent sudden death, dancing with our young friend, Zoe, during a visit to Oslo.

IMG_2662In the fifties/sixties, ‘almost young,’ poor and unknown Leonard Cohen (a Canadian), met also ‘almost young’ also poor, very beautiful and abandoned, Marianne (a Norwegian) and her young son, Axel, on the rough and dreamy Isle of Hydra in Greece in Greece. They lived together there, traveled and loved each other. Many songs that still reverberate their romance resulted – ‘So Long Marianne‘ ‘Bird on a Wire‘ – among others. We also met on Hydra, in the 70s, and remained friends throughout the years. At one point, breaking a precedent at the time, Marianne agreed to an interview for my book ‘Love In the Second Act, True Stories of Romance, Midlife and Beyond.’ Since then, Marianne has become the subject of a memoir – ‘So Long Marianne‘ – written by Kari Hesthamer and edited, also translated, by Helle Goldman.

Third:  Solly Ganor, originally from Lithuania, friend and author of ‘Light One CandleAttachment-1.gif-74and several sequel autobiographies. He lives in Israel with his wife Pola. I met Solly through historian Eric Saul in Los Angeles years ago and was bowled over by the fiber of the man as well as the unbearable nature of his youthful history. He became a willing subject in two of my Holocaust-related books – ‘A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara, Hero of the Holocaust‘ and ‘Fiet’s Vase and Other Stories of Survival, Europe 1939-1945.’ If you read nothing else about the Shoah during your lifetime, I suggest you read Solly’s Light One Candle. It says it all and will stay with you evermore.

Writing this I realize the extent of my riches – these loved ones, this sister, those friends, those infinitely deep and complex beings who have enhanced and flavored my life tenfold. Indeed ‘ … friendship is the breathing rose, with sweets in every fold‘ (Oliver Wendell Holmes). I breathe those loved ones in to mark the date of their birth; and in, and in and never cease being nourished by each of their aromatic souls. 

Happy Birthday dear ones !!!

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Song – On May Morning

by

John Milton

Now the bright morning star, day’s harbinger,

Comes dancing from the east, and leads with her

The flowery May, who from her green lap throws

The yellow cowslip, and the pale primrose.

Hail, bounteous May, that doth inspire Mirth, and youth,

and warm desire; Woods and groves are of thy dressing,

Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing,

Thus we salute thee with our early song,

And welcome thee, and wish thee long.

 

RIP Masha Leon

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A number of years ago I began working on a book for Scholastic Press for Middle School kids ages 10-14 about Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat in Kaunas, Lithuania who, in 1940, against his governments wishes, wrote visas round-the-clock to help refugees fleeing Hitler. (He’s sometimes called the Japanese Shindler.) Though Sugihara’s deeds were courageous and in some sense ruined his later life, a diplomat and his staff writing and signing visa after visa for an entire month in a small office on a hilltop in a provincial city in the Baltics, did not make for a compelling book. In order to give the book some umph, texture and context, and make it of interest to young people, I decided to try to find survivors who were pre-teen at the time. After digging and researching, I was able to locate Solly Ganor who lived and still lives in Israel with his wife Pola. Solly was eleven-years-old in 1940 and had various interactions with Sugihara and his family. (When I met him, he had just published a powerful memoir titled Light One Candle, one of the most harrowing, best Holocaust-related books I’ve ever read.) I was also able to trace a woman named Masha Leon, originally from Poland, who was nine-years-old in 1940. She and her mother had received Visas from Sugihara and owed their survival to him. I was fortunately to be able to do an in-depth interview both Solly and Masha who became willing participants. Thus, my little book A Special Fate, Chiune Sugihara, Hero of the Holocaust  includes the story of Sugihara, the man, his family, his life before, during and after the war. Additionally the stories of a nine-year-old Polish girl – Masha – and an eleven-year-old Lithuanian boy – Solly -are woven like red threads through the tapestry of the book.Attachment-1.gif-65

After the war and much resettling, Masha settled in New York. For many years as an adult she wrote a beloved column called ‘On the Go’ for the The Daily ForwardAttachment-1.gif-63Yesterday I saw in the newspaper that she had passed away [Obituary from New York Times] at age eighty-six. She died peacefully in her own bed during sleep rather than as a frightened child in the Nazi’s noose as she might have. Following, in homage to Masha, Sugihara, and all who have passed through the eye of the needle of fate against all odds, a short section from A Special Fate,. This swatch is from the end of Chapter 4, and the beginning Chapter 5, reconstituting a small section of the young girl’s (and her mother’s) fraught flight. They did not know then that they were about to keep an appointment with destiny. Rest in peace, Masha.

Excerpt:

… Winter, always nasty in Poland, arrived. Mrs. Bernstein found a polish peasant who, for a price, would take them out into the country. She hoped they could get to Byten. Masha and Zelda sat all day in icy sleet and rain in the peasant’s wagon while he collected enough people to fill it. Masha had the mumps and a high fever and some kind of sickness from malnutrition, which caused her mouth to be covered with sores. She felt terrible.

Finally, there were six children, three women, and an old Jewish man in the wagon. the peasant brought his whip down hard on the horse’s back.

Chapter 5

The peasant took them out of the city and, to their horror, right to Gestapo headquarters. He slyly told the Gestapo officer he had a bunch of Jews hiding in his wagon.

The Gestapo lined them up, children included. they 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. At dawn, the Germans shot numbers 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9. Masha had number 6, her mother had number 4.

Then, without any explanation, the Gestapo let them go.

Masha and Zelda walked away by themselves in the direction of the Russian border. Her mother told Masha that in case they were caught, the story Masha should remember was that Zelda was taking her home to their family in the provinces. Zelda told her that the Russians had warm hearts and if they were caught by them, Masha should cry.

For the next few weeks they walked mostly at night. They hid in haystacks and ravines, always avoiding villages with barking dogs. Even though she was still sick, Masha carried a knapsack and a satchel. Zelda carried a suitcase and another knapsack. in the evening Zelda would knock on doors of various small huts where peasants lived. She’d ask for a night’s shelter. She’d also ask if they wanted to have a cow milked or wanted her to dig up potatoes.

Often the peasants would slam the door in her face, but sometimes they wouldn’t. For money, they sometimes let Masha come into the house because she was blond and blended with the polish children. they made Zelda sleep in the barn because they thought she was a Jew.

When they got to the border between the German part of Poland and the Russian part, the German soldiers raised the barrier. Between the two parts of occupied poland was a vast and barren no-man’s-land. it was several hundred yards wide and ran for miles and miles, with a line of trees that led into a forest along one side. Masha and Zelda – one thought that soon they would be safe.

From out of the forest came Russian soldiers on horseback with red stars on their peaked gray military hats. they wore bandoliers, which were crisscrossed belts of bullets, and carried bayonets. the soldiers shouted at the refugees to return to the German side, so the crowd rushed back to the German barrier, but it was closed. the Germans wouldn’t let anyone back through.

People began wandering along the strip of no-man’s- land. Some people gave up hope and sat dejected. As food and water ran out, many died from hunger and cold.

Masha and her mother walked away from the other refugees. Soon they were by themselves. A polish peasant wom- an leading a horse-drawn wagon of hay told them to climb in and hide in the hay.

The woman hid them in the cellar of her house for three days, even though the penalty in German-occupied Poland for helping Jews meant death. the kind woman fed them, cared for the sick little girl, and let them rest. When Zelda tried to pay her, she refused the money, saying that she was only doing her Catholic duty.

After they had rested, they again walked across no-man’s-land. Suddenly, out of the treeline came a single Russian soldier, a boy about seventeen years old, with his bayonet ready. He shouted for them to go back to the German side or he’d shoot.

Mrs. Bernstein set her black valise down on the ground. tired and almost without hope, Zelda told him in Russian that he might as well shoot her. She’d rather a Russian shoot her than a German.

Masha remembered that her mother had told her that if they met the Russians, she should start crying, so she started crying. Her mother turned to her and in a comforting voice, begged her to stop crying, calling her Mashinka.

Mashinka was the diminutive of her name, which is the Russian version of Mary, a popular name in Russia. the soldier wanted to know since when did polish people give their children Russian names.

The soldier was bewildered. He told them that he had a sister called Masha. Same name, same age, same braids parted in the middle like Masha. If he shot Masha it would be like shooting his sister. the soldier took them across the border into the Russian part of poland, which was now joined to the larger Soviet Union, to military headquarters. they were given bread, tea, butter, and apples, while he and the other Russian soldiers serenaded them with songs. in the morning they put Masha and Zelda on a military truck, which took them to the train station at Bialystok, a town northeast of Warsaw.

After days of waiting, Masha and Zelda squeezed through the crowd onto the train. they found a seat in the last car. Exhausted, they waited for the train to start. As they waited, Mrs. Bernstein suddenly became alert. She told Masha that she thought she had heard someone calling their names.

They looked hopefully out the train window. For a moment Zelda thought she saw her husband Matvey on the engine started, and the train left the chaotic station.

At last, they arrived at their destination, Byten. in that small town, and in nearby towns, lived both sets of Masha’s to his word, a few days afterward, her father arrived. And when he told them about his own travails—going back and forth to dangerous Warsaw through Bialystok—they realized that, yes, it had indeed been him at the train station calling their names.

Before they could enjoy the reunion, a childhood friend of Matvey told him that it was unsafe to stay in the town. So, before they’d even rested, they were wrapped up in bandages, hidden in an ambulance, and driven out of town.

Masha asked her father where they were going. He told her that they were going to Vilna. When Masha looked mystified, he told her that Vilna was in a small, independent country of Lithuania, which was three or four days travel from Byten. He told her that it was a Jewish center of learning and that for the time being Jews were safe in Vilna. …

Cover ePub-Fate

[Photos: Left – Masha Leon née Bernstein, age nine Right –

Masha Leon, columnist, with Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate]

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