**Bumped up from two years ago. Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day — falls on the 27th of the Hebrew month of Nisan – Sunday, April 27, this year**

Holocaust Remembrance Day

In the early 1940’s, my father was a rabbi in the Bronx, NYC. His salary was twenty dollars a week.

One day, he received a phone call. It was urgent, the man said. A matter of life and death. It was about the Jews in Europe.

The following Saturday morning, the man spoke to the congregation. He had “inside” information. The Nazis were planning to exterminate the Jews. The “relocation camps” were really death camps. Gas chambers. Gold extracted from the teeth of the dead, their body fat to be used to manufacture soap. He begged people to sign affidavits, at ten dollars each, documenting that they were seeking household help. This had to be done quickly. People could still be saved. Soon, it would be too late.

Everyone was shocked. Surely, this man was exaggerating. Maybe even crazy. Germany — the most cultured of countries — How could this be?

The man asked my parents to sign two affidavits, stating their interest in hiring a butler and maid. They would have to pay twenty dollars for the affidavits. A week’s salary – somehow they would manage. But my parents were not sure whether to believe him. And, documenting that they were hiring a butler and maid, in their small Bronx apartment? Wasn’t that fraud?

My parents gave him the money, and they put their signatures on the affidavits.

Three months later, the doorbell rang. A man and woman held a piece of paper. “We are looking for this family,” the man said, in heavily accented Yiddish. My family’s name was written on the paper. The woman bent down, and kissed the hem of my mother’s dress. “You saved us,” she said.

My mother told me this story, years later, when I was a child. “Could I meet these people?” I wanted to know. No, she only knew that they were taken by HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) to California, to begin a new life. “Wow, you must’ve been *so* happy to save them!” I said. My mother looked at me with a terrible sadness that I will always remember. If she had really believed the man, she said, she could have sold her wedding ring, to save others.

But there was one person who saved thousands of Jewish lives. He was a Christian. Some call him “The Japanese Schindler.” Some call him a saint. His name was Chiune Sugihara.

He was born Jan. 1, 1900 to a middle-class Samurai family. His father wanted him to become a doctor, but Sugihara wanted to study literature, and to see the world. One day, he saw an ad in the newspaper: the Japanese Foreign Ministry was seeking people who were interested in a diplomatic career, and studying abroad. Sugihara passed the difficult entrance exam, and he was then sent to Harbin, China, to the Japanese Language Institute, where he studied Russian, and became fluent in several other languages. It was there that he converted to Christianity.

In 1939, Sugihara, accompanied by his wife Yukiko, and their three small sons, was sent to Lithuania, to open a one-man consulate in Kaunas, called Kovno by the Jews living there. (My mother lived in Kovno as a child, but my grandparents had the good fortune to emigrate to the U.S. in 1927.) His real purpose was to gather intelligence for the Japanese Government about German and Soviet troop movements.

On the morning of July 27, 1940, they saw a crowd of approximately two hundred people outside the consulate. As Yukiko described the scene in her book Visas for Life: “The sounds of the crowd grew louder and louder. People looked frightened and even desperate…. Some of them were climbing over the gate. It was chaotic…. I will always remember their faces and expressions. These people were terrified.” They were Jews who had escaped the Nazis in Poland.

Sugihara went outside, and asked five representatives to meet with him inside the consulate. There, they explained that all other avenues of escape were blocked; they wanted to travel through the Soviet Union, then enter Japan, and then on to Curacao and other Dutch islands. Sugihara was told that many more refugees were on their way to his consulate in Kovno. And they all needed visas to Japan. He told the group that he needed to wire the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for permission to grant these visas.

The answer was “No.” He was not to issue visas to anyone who did not have a guaranteed destination. He wired for permission twice more. Each time, the answer was: visas were “absolutely not to be issued.”

Sugihara knew that defying the Foreign Ministry would put his whole family at risk. His five year old son, Hiroki, who had been watching the scene from the consulate window, pleaded with his father to “help them because the poor little children need your help.” Yukoki relates in her book that she was very proud of her husband when he decided, “I may have to disobey my government, but if I don’t I would be disobeying God.”

On July 31, Sugihara began the painstaking task of handwriting visas. He did this each day, from early morning until late at night. On August 2, he ignored orders from the Japanese Foreign Ministry to vacate the consulate. The Soviets also asked him to leave, but he requested a stay of twenty days. Finally, on August 28, he received an urgent message from the Japanese Foreign Ministry to leave immediately for Berlin. He continued writing visas, even as he gave orders to pack bags and lock the doors of the consulate. He continued to write visas in the train station, and he threw transit papers through the window as the train pulled out of the station. One man, Joshua Nishri, called out: “ ‘Sempo’ Sugihara. We’ll never forget you. I’ll surely see you again!”

The exact number of Sugihara visas is unknown, but between six and ten thousand Jews were able to leave Kovno. (Each visa allowed transit permission to an entire family.) They traveled through the Soviet Union, to Kobe, Japan, where they were treated with kindness by the Church of His Holiness. From there, they went to Japanese-occupied Shanghai, until the end of the war.

Soon after the Sugiharas left Kovno, the Germans entered the city. Between ten and fifteen thousand Jews – men, women, and children – were rounded up, taken to the outskirts of the city, and executed by machine gun squads.

At the end of the war, the Sugiharas spent eighteen months in a Soviet internment camp, and they were finally allowed to return to Japan in 1947. Soon afterward, Sugihara was dismissed from the Japanese Foreign Ministry “because of the Lithuanian incident.” He finally found employment in the Soviet Union, and returned home twice a year to see his family.

Sugihara and his wife often wondered if any of the Kovno refugees had survived the war. He went to the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo, but there was no information about any survivors. However, he left his address, in case any information would become available.

In 1968, during one of his visits home, Sugihara received a phone call from the Israeli Embassy. Joshua Nishri, who had called out to Sugihara as the train had left the Kovno station, was now an attache at the Israeli Embassy in Japan. The Sugiharas were delighted to learn that at least one person had survived. It was a very emotional meeting, and Nishri told the Sugiharas that many survivors had tried, in vain, to contact them, as they could not get any information from the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

The following year, the Sugiharas were invited to Israel by the Kovno survivors. They were honored by many Israeli officials. At the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Sugihara was impressed by the inscription: “To Remember and Never Forget.”

Hundreds of letters were sent to Yad Vashem by the Sugihara Survivors, as they were called, and in 1985, he was given Israel’s highest honor: the Righteous Among Nations Award. By that time, his health had deteriorated, and Mrs. Sugihara, accompanied by their son Nobuki, accepted the award on his behalf. Sugihara passed away the following year. There are now approximately one hundred thousand “Descendants of Sugihara.” (I personally know some of them.)

Every year, in Israel, on Yom HaShoah (literally, The Day of the Holocaust, pronounced ha-show-AH, which falls on the 27th of the Hebrew month of Nisan – April 19th this year) at exactly 10:00 a.m., a two-minute siren will sound throughout the country. Traffic will stop, the drivers will exit their cars and stand, the outdoor cafes of Tel Aviv will grow silent, pedestrians will halt, schoolchildren will stand quietly. “To Remember- And Never Forget” — not only the horror, but the self-sacrifice of people like Chiune Sugihara. May his memory be blessed.

Related Link:

Visas for Life Foundation

Jerusalem Post: Holocaust Remembrance Day events continue

This section is for comments from tammybruce.com's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Tammy agrees with or endorses any particular comment just because she lets it stand.
28 Comments | Leave a comment
  1. dwbinder says:

    Thank God for Jews and thank God for Christians where ever they may be. It gives me hope in dark times past and dark times to come.

  2. ancientwrrior says:

    Goodness knows no boundaries of race or nationality. This man saw beyond it all.

  3. flaggman says:

    Amazing post Shifra. Amazing how most everyone heard of what was going on in Europe to the Jews, but very few chose to believe it, and even fewer chose to act. I would love to know if there were any academic studies on what percentage of Americans were smitten by fascism, Nazism and communism in the 1930s. I suspect it was high, and I think this mindset – encouraged by FDR who wanted to fundamentally transform the America that he believed had failed – was what made people not want to believe what they were hearing. They wanted to believe that Europe had answers that did not involve genocide and tyranny.

  4. jeaneeinabottle says:

    Thank you Shifra, gave me chills. Thank you God. Never forget, ever, I will never forget this story either….thank you.

  5. AniMel says:

    I had never heard this story before. Thank G-d for those willing to break the laws of man to show compassion on others.

  6. naga5 says:

    thank you, shifra!
    back in 1997 i was at Christian men’s conference in DC and visited the Holocaust museum. i gave the docents a ration for not having any material out about sugihara. i had attended a lecture at the local chabad and the rabbi’s father was saved by sugihara. i was able to incorporate the material in a lecture that i was able to give to the local middle school GATE class for the last 16 years about the japanese internment camp experience. although i may disagree with how that experience was handled, i think we all can agree that the principles of the declaration of independence are the touchstones that we can agree on, that we all have g-d given rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
    it reminds me of the first rules of theology.
    rule 1. g-d is g-d.
    rule 2. man is man.
    rule 3. never confuse rule 1 with rule 2.
    when man usurps g-d’s rule, trouble ensues. g-d lays out our choices, “i have set before you life and death, blessings and curse.” G-d admonishes us to “choose life.” the Holocaust is a flashpoint that shows us man’s capacity for great evil and great good. as the political season is upon us, may we see the choices before us, may we remember what the past teaches us and may we always choose life.
    thanks again, shifra!!!

  7. Mariachi says:

    Thank you so much Shifra. Every year I make it a point to try to go to the JFR’s seminar for educators, but I’d not heard of Sugihara before. He is an inspiration to those of all walks of life seeking to make righteous choices every day. Thank you for sharing his story.

  8. LucyLadley says:

    Shifra, I have been so blessed to get to know you through the TAMS. You are open to G-d working through you. By sharing your stories, you keep the flame of G-d’s love alive. Thank you for being an example for us, to share how G-d works through those who obey Him. We need to follow your lead & keep story telling alive.

  9. jimbo says:

    Shifra, that is a wonderful story.

  10. […] Israel and the rest of the world observes Yom HaShoa, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, here is an account of a Bronx rabbi, as told by his son, of how they saved one […]

  11. rosebud2186 says:

    Thanks for sharing Shifra! I have never heard about this man. My Christian mother has always taught me to honor the Jewish people, as they are God’s chosen people. I really appreciate your teachings. : )

  12. Patricia says:

    Wow, thank you so much Shifra for sharing this story. It is an honor to get to know you fellow TAM and to call you friend. I will share this story with as many people as possible.

  13. LJZumpano says:

    I shall remember, and NEVER forget. Thank you Shifra

  14. ffigtree says:

    Thank you Shifra! History is such an important teacher. “The Holocaust teaches us to recognize the war of words which paves the road for more violent aggression against a minority, whether that minority is Jewish, Christian, European or Rwandan. That dark time in history can also arm us to confront dangerous stereotypes and even more dangerous silence to the persecution of others. ~Peggy Shapiro from Learning from the Holocaust Prohibited at Purdue University,Calumet

  15. deaves1 says:

    This is a very interesting and an enlightening post Shifra. It is difficult to believe humans beings could ever do anything like this to another human being. But it did happen and sadly as time goes on, less and less of this information is available to our young people, who really needs to hear about this action by one group of people toward another group of people simply due to religious beliefs. Thank you Shifra for this posting. You rock sister!!

  16. careless says:

    Thank You Shifra. Todah Rabah.

    My heart breaks when I read these stories but they must be read and remembered, and sometimes, sometimes shows it takes but one to do what’s right, become a hero, and save lives.

    Other than her mother and aunt, my wife lost her entire family during The Holocaust (you know the one that Achmadinnerjacket claims didn’t happen). Gone, completely wiped off the face of the Earth.

    My Grandfather was D-Day plus two in Normandy. He told of unspeakable horrors against The Jewish People when they liberated the German death camps.

    Even though much time has passed, what happened still touches our hearts and affects us. We Jews say: M’Chayil L’Chayil – May you go from strength to strength.

    We remember. We honor those taken from us. We say Never Again!

    • LucyLadley says:

      Careless, thanks for sharing this story about your family. You & Shifra are such wonderful story tellers. I’ve heard that story telling is very important to Jews. Our country would be in better shape if we all had the same priority of story telling as you have learned from your family. Thank you for setting an example for us. I will make it a priority to tell stories to my grandchildren.

  17. Shifra, thank you. Thank you for sharing this story, of what your parents did and also the story of Sugihara. You told it beautifully. You made me cry.

    May we always Remember and Never Forget. Bless you.

  18. midget says:

    Dear Shifra, Your parents were real heroes.I thank you for sharing your story.I have always loved God’s chosen people.There are so many people like Suguhara who did so much to protect the Jewish families. But not enough. My Dad quit school at 17 to fight the Nazis. I love the Psalm of Daivid 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted”. May God continue to protect His people. Yeshua bless you.

  19. mariamcbean says:

    Thank you, Shifra, for this eloquent reminder of the basic intrinsic goodness of some and the basic evil of others…may the Lord continue to bless Israel and its people.

  20. imacat says:

    Thank you, Shifra, for sharing this beautiful and heartbreaking story. I will share it with my friends and family, especially my Japanese sister-in-law. Shalom to you and yours, dear friend.

  21. otlset says:

    If this world is set up by God to give us challenges and hardships in life to give the opportunity to grow spiritually, then I understand why the Jews are called God’s ‘chosen’ people.

  22. Pat_S says:

    Most did nothing. The few who did something saved all of us.

  23. Alain41 says:

    Moving remembrance. Thank you Shifra.

  24. LJZumpano says:

    Shifra, I see your soul in your writing. I do not cry easily. I refused to cry on 9/11, because in my mind there was no time for me to mourn. Too much was happening and I refused to give into the pain of it. I knew that if I allowed myself to cry I would not be able to stop. I wanted answers, and since I work in a church, hundreds of people in agony began pouring in looking for solace for weeks afterward. I worked through my grief. Reading your piece this morning at work, I could not control the tears. I could see your parents apartment. Hear the knock at the door. Feel the bewilderment and pain. Your words brought me there. Your words brought me to a good man forced to choose between what was politically correct and what he knew was the right thing to do as a human being. I see his son at the window, I see the Jews and I smell the sweat of fear. I know why we must never forget the Holocaust, and I never will, but today your words seared my very being with an image which I shall always remember – that no evil is so great that it cannot be overcome by good. Throughout the day, your post came to mind and provided a balance to the pettiness we endure these days. It is my hope that we have raised our children to be the ones who stand up and do that which is right in spite of the cost. It is my prayer that we would have the courage to do what we know must be done.

  25. Rob_W says:

    Thank you, Shifra. This story is worthy of repeating every year. We must never forget.

  26. MACVEL says:

    Will we be able to have the guts that this man did? With Obama running amuck, will we be tested?

  27. Di Grace says:

    Shifra, your stories have a way of rendering me inwardly silent-not an easy thing to do. As Lucy said, I’m glad to have gotten to know you through the TAMs. God bless you and your family and may His blessings of peace and protection be to the Jewish people now and in the days to come.

You must be logged in to post a comment.