Sugihara and the Jews: A Chanukah Story

Thanks again to Jack Cohen of the Netanya Branch. You can read Jack’s blog here.

This event took place on Sunday, December 1, 2013 in Netanya.

Sunday I saw a movie entitled “Conspiracy of Kindness” at the AACI about Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during WWII.  The movie was shown by Naftali Bet-Ram, a retired professor from Touro College, New York, who provided some commentary.

Although Japan became an ally of Nazi Germany in the Axis powers during WWII, nevertheless they refused to introduce anti-Semitic laws in Japan and treated the Jews who came under their control with respect.  It should be noted that the Japanese Government had a positive view of the Jews for one main reason.  When they wanted to go to war with Russia in 1902 they could not find any banker to finance their plans, except for Jacob Schiff of New York, who loaned them m$200, which was a huge sum.  When the surprised Japanese envoy asked him why he gave them the loan Schiff replied, “as a banker I should not give you this loan, but as a Jew I must give it to you,” and then he wished them luck in defeating the Russians, which they did in the Russo-Japan war of 1904.  In the 1930s a serious proposal had been floated called “the Fugu Plan” that Jews who were being forced to flee Europe should be settled in Manchuoko, the name given to the Japanese-puppet colony of Manchuria that Japan had captured from China.  But, the American Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen Wise rejected this proposal before the anti-Jewish atrocities in Europe became known and by then it was too late.

Chiune Sugihara had become a Japanese diplomat and had learnt Russian and German.  He was instrumental in buying the Manchurian railway from the Russians and was involved in learning the plans of the Russians prior to WWII.  In other words he was a diplomatic spy, and he was then sent to the Japanese Embassy in Berlin.  From there he was sent to the Embassy in Helsinki, and then he set up a consular office in Kaunas, Lithuania, which was closer to the Russian border.  Then Lithuania was invaded by the Russians and  they ordered all foreign Embassies to close.  During this period thousands of Polish Jews fled to Lithuania from the advancing German Army.  They brought with them tales of the atrocities carried out against the Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators.

One day Sugihara was in a store in Kaunas when a young Jewish boy named Solly Ganor came in.  He asked his aunt who owned the store for money to go to a movie, and she demurred.  Sugihara then offered the boy the money, but he refused it, saying that he could not accept money from strangers.  Sugihara told him to consider him an uncle.  Whereupon the boy said, if you are my uncle you must come to our Chanukkah party.  So Sugihara went to the family Chanukkah Party with his wife and children, and learnt about Jewish customs.  There Sugihara also learnt about the anti-Jewish atrocities being commited by the Germans in Poland and reported them to his Foreign Ministry.  Miraculously his correspondence  with the Ministry survived the American bombing of Tokyo, when most of the Japanese Government archives were destroyed.

Quite coincidentally, a Dutch Jewish couple who had fled from Poland to Lithuania asked the nearest Dutch Embassy if they could receive a visa for the Dutch Caribbean colony of Curacao, since due to the war it was impossible to return to Holland.  They were told that no visa was necessary for Curacao.  They asked the Ambassador if he would write this in their passports and he complied.  Soon they returned and asked for him to do the same for 30 of their Polish friends, and he did so.  Eventually thousands of Jews, finding no escape from Lithuania simply wrote in their passports “no visa needed for Curacao” and used this as a destination visa from Lithuania.  But, to leave Lithuania they needed two other visas, an exit visa from the Russians (who occupied Lithuania at this point) and a transit visa thru another country.

The Dutch couple approached Sugihara who worked out of his house in Kaunas as the offical Japanese Consul in Lithuania, from where he had spied on the Russians and the Germans.  They asked him for a transit visa thru Japan and he gave them one.  Soon his office was besieged by hundreds of Jews seeking similar visas.  He cabled the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo for approval to give out transit visas, but was refused.  He was refused three times, but nevertheless he started to give out visas to these desperate Jews seeking any haven, and in fact ended up giving 2,120 visas, according to the list of names that he subsequently submitted to the Ministry.  Note that because he had no staff, making out these visas by hand was a herculean task.

The Rabbi of the Mir Yeshiva, whose 300 teachers and pupils had escaped from Poland to Lithuania, came to Sugihara and asked him for transit visas, and he agreed.  But, in order to do the work the Mir Yeshiva Rabbi and a German volunteer worked together with him day and night.   However, this is not the total of visas he gave out, even when he had closed the Consulate he continued to give out visas, even at the railway station and even on the train.  In addition, noone knows how many visas were copied and forged.  Yet the Russians gave everyone (except Lithuanian citizens) exit visas from Lithuania, as long as they could buy a ticket on the Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostock and the Japanese authorities honored all the visas, even those that were obvious forgeries.

In this way thousands of Jews manged to escape the Holocaust.  Solly Ganor, who was Lithuanian, was not allowed to leave, and when the Germans captured Lithuania and the Russians withdrew, he saw the ferocity with which the Lithuanians themselves massacred Jews in the streets.  He was sent with 30,000 other Jews to a Ghetto in Kaunas.  From there some 10,000 Jews were taken out one day and murdered.  Many of them were shot and many were thrown alive into the huge pit in the Ninth Fort, a remnant of the medieval fortifications around Kaunas. Altogether 30,000 Jews were murdered there.

Solly was lucky to remain in the Ghetto and was on a forced death march when he lost conscousness and awoke to find all the Germans soldiers gone.  Then he was rescued coincidentally by soldiers of the all-Japanese American unit, the 442 regiment.

Sugihara remained in Europe after the war, but when he was ordered back to Japan he was forced to resign his post at the Foreign Ministry due to his disobeying of orders and was stripped of his pension and was officially disgraced.  He did odd jobs until he returned to Moscow working in the import-export business.  After 16 years living there in obscurity he returned to Japan.  He was sought out by Jews who he had saved and was given the award of Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in Israel in 1985.  He was only recognized as a hero by the Japanese Government after that and all his pension amounts were repaid to his family after his death in 1986.  When he was asked why he did it, he seemed not to understand the question and then replied “but anyone would have done it.”  He refused all attempts to glorify his name and to receive rewards.  Now there are monuments to him in Kaunas and his hometown of Kamakura in Japan.

Of those Jews he saved, many were shipped out of Japan to Shanghai during the war, but none were killed.  Some were given visas to Australia and New Zealand and other countries before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and America entered the war.  None of the Jews went to Curacao.  About half of the Jews eventually made their way to Israel where they and their descendents live today. One of those he saved, Zerah Warhaftig, who was a Zionist leader in Poland, later became a Minister in the Israeli Government and a founder of Bar Ilan University.   It is estimated that today there are ca. 40,000 descendents of the Jews Sugihara saved.



Live from Jerusalem! It’s Avraham Avinu!

So by now, if you are a member of AACI, you have received a letter in the mail. And if you receive our free enewsletter, or if you are like us on facebook, or follow us on twitter, then you may know that Avraham Avinu was recently sighted in our Jerusalem office in Talpiot.

Here are some highlights of his visit.

Please like and share the video. And of course, you can donate by clicking here.

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and Haifa.
AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall) Talpiot, Jerusalem
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

With Brush and Pen – A Selection of Some of the Winning Entries

AACI Children’s and Teen’s Arts Exhibit

With Brush and Pen


Standing Room Only Crowd - Well, OK some kids were sitting in front of the stage too!

Standing Room Only Crowd – Well, OK some kids were sitting in front of the stage too!

Join the fun on facebook – Tag yourself in our photo album.

(You don’t have to be a member of facebook to view the album.)

Children’s & Teen’s Art Show Opening Night was fabulous and the crowd was standing-room only!

View this gallery for images of many of the prize-winning entries and come to the AACI to see the exhibit in person for many more examples of inspiring creativity.

Even if you missed our opening night you can still come and see the show,

With Brush and Pen,

on display until June 13th at the

AACI-Dr. Max & Gianna Glassman Family Center

37 Pierre Koenig, 4th floor

 (corner Poalei Tzedek) in Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem

call 02-566-1181 for more information.

Like – Comment – Visit – Subscribe to us on facebook ,  YouTube and twitter

IICC – Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center

    On Tuesday we went on a trip (tiyul) with AACI to the IICC. AACI is the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, our English-speaking club in Netanya and IICC is the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center. I have lived in Israel for 15 years and had never before heard of this organization, that was established in 1985 to commemorate the Israeli heroes who died in the service of the State while carrying out intelligence operations.
    The IICC was formed by the three arms of Israel’s intelligence services; the Shin Bet (responsible for internal security), the Mossad (responsible for foreign intelligence gathering and analysis) and Aman the Intelligence Corps of the IDF. More than that, the IICC sits in an obscure location on a small side street, which I used as a short cut going home from work and passed it many times without realizing that it was there. It would indeed require information and intelligence to find it.
    It was founded by former intelligence officers to commemorate their fallen colleagues. The memorial consists of a stone maze with the names of the deceased carved on the walls.
    There is also a small synagogue containing a 120 year old Syrian Torah scroll that was one of over 100 rescued by the Mossad during the rescue of Syrian Jewry, and adjacent is a library containing a file on each individual, that contains official letters as well as material added by family members and friends. It should be emphasized that all this information is now public, although some individuals still cannot be named.
    Part of the Center includes the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center that has a large library on intelligence and terrorism information as well as a tiny museum on terrorism (see . This is a private organization that has ties to the formal State intelligence organizations and produces reports on various topics that contain only publicly available information. For example they produced the Report that was submitted as the official Israeli reaction to the Goldstone Report.
    We were shown an introductory video on the Center, then a video about one of the successful operations carried out in 1953, soon after the State was founded, in order to rescue Jewish children from Morocco, under the aegis of “Nativ” that was a part of the Mossad given the responsibility to rescue endangered Jews from anywhere in the world.
    For this operation the Mossad recruited a young British Jew named David Littman, code-named “Mural,” who was living in Switzerland with his wife and child. David was anxious to help Jews who were endangered, partly because as a historian he had studied the Holocaust. He was asked by the Jewish Agency to go to Morocco and see if he could rescue 500 Jewish children, but he was unaware that he had been recruited by the Mossad.
    He took his family with him and posed as a British Christian under a false identity. He set up an office in Casablanca that was a charity offering free holidays in Switzerland to children under stress. He made contacts with the Swiss and British diplomats and Moroccan authorities. He was accepted as genuine by them and he then signed up children for the holidays, all of whom incidentally were Jewish. The Moroccan authorities granted him mass visas for 100 children at a time, and he successfully rescued 530, some by boat and some by plane. From Switzerland, from a genuine holiday villa, the children were then transported to Israel. Neither the children nor their parents actually knew that Israel was their destination, although many suspected this. After the success of Operation Mural, the Moroccan authorities, maybe partly out of embarrassment and partly out of the realization that they could not prevent the Jews from leaving, allowed 100,000 Jews to be transported by sea via France and Italy to Israel. The parents of the rescued children joined them in Israel.
    Incidentally, Littman’s wife, Gisele, who was expelled from Egypt with her parents in 1957, writes under the nom-de-plume of Bat Yeor and authored a famous book entitled “Dhimmi,” the Arabic for protected minorities.
     After lunch we also heard a lecture by Prof. Yoram Kahati on “Radical Islam”, in which he described the modern origins of radical Islam from Hassan al Banna who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 and Said Kuttub (Sayid Qutb) in Egypt in the 1940’s to Yussuf Qaradawi, the Muslim cleric who has justified under Islam much of the current terror used against Israel and the West. He also explained the symbolism that is used by the terrorist groups such as Hizbollah and Hamas in their flags and slogans and described their world-view. Altogether not a pleasant subject but very interesting and informative.
(You can expect to hear more from Jack who was born in London, UK, lived in suburban Washington DC area for 30 years, moved to Israel in 1996. A retired Professor. Thanks again, Jack!)

Motzash Open Mic Nite at AACI

On Saturday, November 6 for Motzei Shabbat, AACI Jerusalem held it’s second Open Mic Night in the auditorium of the Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center in Talpiot. This event, co-sponsored by Rusty Mike Radio and Nefesh B’Nefesh, was an opportunity for olim and Israelis in their 20s and 30s to meet and mingle, all while listening to a great variety of music, poetry and comedy by local artists.

Snacks were provided and an excellent selection of natural, handcrafted beer was sold by Lone Tree Brewery of Gush Etzion.

Elana Kutscher (AACI) and Rachel Kaufman (Nefesh B’Nefesh) lined up a stellar schedule of over 20 acts. Local acts included KolTure Shock, an a capella choir; Yerachmiel Ziegler, musician; Aryeh Bernstein, MC of the night and poet, among many others.

A particular crowd pleaser was Mo Kamioner, a stand-up comedian and oleh chadash with the uncanny ability to make light of a situation that many Anglos deal with trying to live in Israel: setting up a phone line with Bezeq!

With over 20 performers and over 250 people in attendance, AACI hopes to make Open Mic Night a bi-annual occurrence!

special thanks to Katie for her debut guest blog post.

AACI Sukkot Walking Tours – Don’t Miss Out!

Where was Jerusalem’s first tennis court? Who is buried in the ancient cave tombs from the time of the First and Second Temples? Where did Theodor Herzl stay when he visited Jerusalem? Who hung out on Emek Refaim before the current patrons of the cafés and restaurants? What does Jerusalem look like from the Bridge of Strings?

Sukkot is the perfect time to get to know Jerusalem intimately by walking the stones, pavements, streets and alleyways of this magnificent city. AACI offers 24 walking tours guided by English-speaking licensed tour guides beginning Erev Sukkot, Wednesday, Sept. 22nd and continuing through Isru Chag, Friday, Oct. 1st.

Discover or rediscover Jerusalem neighborhoods and historical sites in both the old and new city. Whether you’re visiting Jerusalem for the holiday, a new immigrant or a long time citizen of the city, there’s something of interest for everyone and for all ages. Even if you know the city and its history well, there are tours that provide a unique perspective. You can “Follow in the Footsteps of the Women of Jerusalem” who added to the richness of life in the city or join the “Jerusalem Medicine Tour” and learn about the development of Jerusalem’s health care system through historic, geopolitical and anecdotal stores along Hanevi’im Street.

Carol Kaplan, a tour guide and one of the program organizers, explains that an added advantage of an AACI walking tour is the chevrah (group or congregation). Olim chadashim (new immigrants) can mix with vatikim (long-time residents). AACI members can connect with one another, and tourists can meet English-speaking veteran Israelis.

The complete list of tours with a detailed description of the itinerary can be found on the AACI website. The tours last 2 ½- 3 ½ hours. The cost is NIS 35 for AACI members, NIS 45 for non-members (unless stated otherwise). Children aged 5 and under are free, and there is a family discount price of NIS 120/150 for families of 4 or more. Participants pay entrance fees, if any. Responsibility for each tour is in the hands of the individual tour guide leading that tour. Tours are subject to change.

A tour will not take place if there are fewer than 3 participants so it’s best to call ahead and tell the guide that you are planning to participate. The guide’s name and telephone number is listed after the description of each tour.

So put on your comfortable walking shoes, bring water and your enthusiasm! For more information or questions, call Carol Kaplan 054-522-1665, 02-671-3770.

Chag Sukkot Sameach!


The new AACI Advocacy Initiative – putting your hours where your mouth is

I recently spoke to Asa Cohen, the president of the AACI since April, 2010. This article is based on what he told me in that conversation.

The AACI has a 60-year history of watching English speaking olim move to Israel, deal with all the changes and, in many instances, take action to try to make Israel a more friendly place to live (aka, a little less aggravating).

It was AACI members who first brought assisted living facilities to Israel. The AACI also later worked with the members of the Knesset Finance Committee on a tax commission that modified the tax laws in Israel in order to encourage North Americas to make aliya. In the past, if you made aliya after the age of 60, you didn’t qualify for health insurance. AACI members helped facilitate changing that law which affects not only North American olim but olim from anywhere in the world.

Now, Asa Cohen, in his new presidency, has started a new initiative. He explained that the pattern was always that the action started with a few individual AACI members. But now Cohen wants to start initiatives that begin at the level of the whole organization.

And we thought the lines for Bituach Leumi were long!

The way it will work is that there will be three groups working together. The steering committee will be made up of some AACI board members and AACI members. They’ll decide which non-political issues that come up in Israeli life should be tackled. The corps of advisors will consist of volunteer professionals with expertise in a wide range of fields like economics, taxes, law, medicine and social work. They will decide what the best way is to approach the issues at hand. The project committees will be the foot soldiers getting the work done on the ground.

Probably every one of us who has moved here from an English speaking country has had experiences where we say, “This is not how it should be!” Now we have a chance to not just talk about it but actually make a difference as part of a group, all working towards common goals to make Israel an even more wonderful place to live than it is already.

What issues would you want to be involved with? Please don’t hesitate to write your ideas here on the blog and/or you can email Asa Cohen at to get involved.

Photo by tiarescott on flickr. It is taken at Tian’anmen Square – China in 1988. It is a line-up to see Mao’s tomb.