of Hanukah, December 1939
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.
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
“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
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
Have a day of
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Herzelia Pituach, Israel
January 26, 2003