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Dachau Death March
The  Miracle
of  Hanukah, December 1939

 

For me Hanukah always had a special significance.
It was on Hanukah in 1939 that I met a person who had the greatest moral influence on me for the rest of my life. His name was Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul to Lithuania.
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Chiune Sugihara was in Kaunas Lithuania, during the most critical time of our existence, September 1939 to August 1940.
During  that time Chiune Sugihara became the most unlikely person to save Jews, as he represented a country that was allied with the Nazis.
While the Western consulates, with very few exceptions, shut their doors and hearts to the plight of the Jews, it was Chiune Sugihara who risked his career to save Jews by issuing to them visas to escape from the coming Holocaust.
He did that despite the explicit orders from his government forbidding him to issue visas to the Jewish refugees. One has to realize  that the Japanese culture is based on strict discipline and total obedience to the authorities.
What Chiune Sugihara did was totally out of character for a Japanese person, especially a Japanese diplomat.
Many years later he was asked a simple question: “ Why did you do it? Why did you risk your career and ruin your families life for total strangers?”
“If I had not disobeyed my government, I would have disobeyed my G-d. I chose G-d before my government.“
As a consequence of his actions, Chiune Sugihara lost his job and for the rest of his life struggled to support his family.
Every Hanukah I light an additional candle for Chiune Sugihara and his family.
He issued thousands of visas to Jewish refugees and saved their lives. Today there are forty thousand descendents around the globe who are alive because of Chiune Sugihara. I think he deserves to be named a  hero by the entire Jewish people.
This Hanukah I have a special reason to mention Chiune Sugihara. At the first candle of Hanukah I received the an e-mail, which brought tears to my eyes:
It was sent by Silky Pitterman.


 

Dear Mr. Ganor,

Since you are in part responsible for the Mir Yeshiva's escape, I feel that I owe you so much.
My father-in-law was with the Mirer and so its thanks to you I have my husband and my family.
I wanted to let you know what my children are doing.  My oldest son  (22 years old) is in Yerushalayim learning in the Mir Yeshiva.  He B"H has a close relationship with his rebbe.  My daughter (almost 17) is in a seminary in Gateshead, England.  She amazes me how she loves it.  My 15 year old son is in 10th grade in a yeshiva in Passic, NJ.  He is a masmid.  My youngest is almost 14.  He is in 8th grade and plans to stay in NYC for high school.  He is a holy neshama.  I can't beleive I am so blessed. I know that their mitzvohs are a merit for you. Take care.  May Hashem always bless you with health and nachas.
Silky Pitterman

Have a day of blessing.
Have a lichtigeh Chanukah

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 

My Hero, Chiune Sugihara. By Solly Ganor
 

There are times when we should  speak not only of our enemies who wish  to destroy us, but also of those who risked their lives and careers to save our  people.

Last week I wrote a letter about my ‘‘True hero’, Auschwitz survivor, Mrs. Ramon, the mother of the Israeli Astronaut colonel Illan Ramon.
Today, I want to tell you of another hero, the hero of my childhood, he was the Japanese consul to Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara.
.
In the summer of 1940, he issued visas to thousands of Jewish refugees against the express orders of his government. He is not  only my hero, but is the hero of forty thousand Jewish souls who are alive today because of his selfless act to save them from the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
I was a living witness to that rescue event and I wish to share it with you.

Three years ago I was invited to celebrate the reunion of thousands of Jewish survivors with the their rescuer’s wife, Yokiko Sugihara.
The reunion took place in New York’s Town Hall. That day the biggest storm of the year hit New York and the rain came down in buckets, but the Town Hall was packed full with Sugihara survivors. The storm was not going to keep them away from meeting Yokiko Sugihara, who came all the way from Japan to meet us. There were many emotional speeches that evening, including the one by Yokiko herself, but the one that really touched us all was the short speech of a thirteen year old boy.
He came to the stage with a bunch of flowers in his hand, kissed Yokiko on both cheeks and said:
"Mrs. Sugihara, Your husband saved my grandfather and grandmother, and because of that I am here today and so are forty thousand descendants of the people to whom your husband issued visas. Thank you, Mrs. Yokiko Sugihara for granting us all our lives."

The fifteen hundred people who attended the event stood up and gave the boy a standing ovation.

Today, I received an invitation to come to Hawaii where I would be reunited with Mrs. Yokiko Sugihara. I can safely say that her husband  is my hero since I was as an eleven year old boy, when I first met him and he declared himself to be my ‘uncle’.
Chiune, Sempo Sugihara was among the first to be recognized by Yad Vashem, as a Righteous Gentile (Ish Hassid Umot) for saving thousands of Jewish people from the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

 It was Chiune Sugihara who was among the few who risked his career to save Jewish refugees, lining up at his door. The greatness of this man was the fact that against the orders of his superiors he granted visas and he didn’t turn away a single person who came to him for help.

Thousands of Jewish people besieged every day the foreign embassies trying to obtain visas. They went to the Americans,  the British, the Canadians, the Australians and more, but the overwhelming majority were turned away empty handed. No one wanted to save the Jews from Hitler.
Irony would have it that an ally of the Nazis would risk his career to save Jews, whereas the West refused to help them.
 

In July 1939, the Japanese consul  Chiune Sugihara with his family arrived to my home town of Kaunas, Lithuania. They  took up residence in a house not far from where we lived. It became known as the Japans consulate, an event which received  hardly any attention. One of my uncles actually expressed concern, as it was well known that the Japanese were allies of the Nazis.

"Nothing good can be expected from the Japanese." He said to my father.
How wrong he was..

To go back in time and visit the world I knew as a child is easy. All I have to do is close my eyes and I can see it clearly. Please, join me and I will take you the world I knew as a child and only lives in the memory of the few survivors still alive.
Kovne.
I know and love every nook and cranny of this town. Slowly its familiar details emerge in my mind. The golden cupola of the Chor Shoul, our loveliest synagogue, takes shape in  the distance. Then Niemuno and Vilnius Streets, and Rotushes Square, lined with its massive stone houses which had probably seen Napoleon on his march to Moscow.

December, 1939. It is Hanukah again, the Festival of Lights. I am eleven years old. I collected quite a sum of money from my family as Hanukah gelt.
We have some refugees in our house, Mr. Rosenblat and his daughter Lea. I had to give up my room for them , and sleep with my brother Hermann, an idea I wasn’t crazy about. My mother saw my resentment and made me feel guilty. That was my undoing, because the same day several ladies showed up asking for donations to help the refugees. On impulse I gave them all my gelt.
The next day, a new Laurel and Hardy movie were playing and I was dying to see it, but my pockets were empty.

I had only one hope left, my aunt Anushka. She ran an elegant shop of imported gourmet foods  for her rich clientele and she also catered to foreign embassies.

It was cold when I sat out that afternoon, but I was dressed warmly. The snow felt crisp under my boots and shimmered white in the afternoon sun.
It was Hanukah, and all along the streets menorahs shimmered in the windows of the Jewish houses, and Christmas trees glowed in the homes of the Christians. Aunt Anushka’s shop window was decorated with a string of coloured bulbs, and a contraption attached to the door played a merry tune when you opened it. It was a gift from some inventor friend of hers.
Somewhere in Poland, World War Two had started, but here in Lithuania life continued as if nothing had happened.

When I walked in she was serving an  elegantly dressed gentleman.
" Ah, my dear nephew is here for his Hanukah money, I bet." She said in Russian, smiling at me.

" Come here and meet his excellency, the consul of Japan, Mr. Sugihara," She added. I suppose I was starring at him. He had the most interesting slanted eyes. I approached him slowly and extended my hand.

"How do you do, Sir" I said politely.
He solemnly shook my hand, returning my open scrutiny, and then smiled.
There was humor and kindness in those strange eyes, and I immediately warmed to him.
As my aunt Anushka went to  the cash register, Mr. Sugihara took a shiny coin from his pocket.
"Since this is Hanukah consider me your uncle." He said extending the coin.
I hesitated for a minute.
" You should come to our Hanukkah party on Saturday." I blurted out as I plucked the coin from his hand.
"The whole family will be there. Seeing as you are my uncle." I added.
That Saturday, Chiune Sugihara and his wife Yokiko came to our home to attend our party.
It was at the party that Mr. Rosenblath, the refugee who lived at our house, out of desperation approached Mr. Sugihara and asked him whether he would grant him a visa.
Mr. Sugihara was puzzled by this request. Why would a Jewish person wish to go Japan, knowing that the Japanese were allied with the Nazis.
At this party the Sugiharas met many of my uncles and aunts and through them other Jewish families.
When Mr. Sugihara heard that I was collecting stamps, he invited me to come to the consulate. I would go there quite often, to collect stamps and get some tea and Japanese cookies from Yokiko. I would play with their older son, Hiroki, even though  he was much younger than I.

It was only six months later that we found out what a true humanitarian we had for a friend, when he began giving out visas to anyone who came to his consulate. We were among the first to receive the visas, but unfortunately we couldn’t use it, because we were Lithuanian Citizens, and when the Soviets occupied Lithuania, our passports became invalid. Thus we were caught in Hitler’s killing machine and most of my family perished.
But I always remembered my ‘‘uncle’ Chiune  Sugihara. He was like a light house in the sea of darkness that surrounded us during those days in Lithuania.
Of one thing I take extra pride. In her book "Visas For Life", on page 162, next to my photo, Yokiko writes  the following:
"The decision to issue the visas to the Jewish refugees, may have been influenced by an eleven year old boy by the name of Solly Ganor."
Even if only a small part of it were true, I would feel that there was some purpose to my life.
 

Solly Ganor
Herzelia Pituach, Israel
 January 26, 2003