Monday, March 8, 2010

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee, with an afterword by Hiroki Sugihara is a beautiful book which shows that the actions of one person, supported by their family, can make a huge difference.

The opening page of the book contains the following two proverbs, which serve as starting places in ones thoughts for reading the book:

If you save the life of one person,
it is as if you saved the world entire. -- Jewish proverb

Even a hunter cannot kill a bird
that comes to him for refuge. -- Japanes proverb

This beautiful story is told through the voice of a five year old boy, Hiroki Sugihara, who lived with his mother and father and other family members in Lithuania in 1940. His father was the Japanese diplomat to Lithuania. One morning in July, the family awoke to see hundreds of Polish Jews standing outside their front gate. These people were refugees who begged Mr. Sugihara to issue them Japanese visas so they could escape through Russia to Japan and avoid certain death at the hands of the Nazis. Mr. Sugihara asked his country if he could issue these visas and was repeatedly told no. After asking his family, including the young boy and his siblings, Mr. Sugihara decided to issue as many visas as he could before he was stopped by his government or the Nazis. In doing so, he put his family in the line of danger as well.

Passage to Freedom is a very moving story and the illustrations are beautiful - according to the book they are "rendered by applying encaustic beeswax on paper, then scratching out images, and finally adding oil paint and colored pencil." The result is an image in monochromatic tones of brown with haunting clarity. The cover brings forth an interesting thought - I had passed this book a number of times, wondering what in the world a Japanese father and son could possibly have to do with the Jewish Holocaust in Europe. Certainly the Japanese were involved with World War II, but not to liberate the Jewish people. After reading the short book, I am fairly ashamed of my own ignorance, and perhaps my bias. Still, an unusual link which is further highlighted in the Afterword, with Sugihara stating, In 1969, my father was invited to Israel, where he was taken to the famous Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. In 1985, he was chosen to receive the "righteous Among Nations" Award from Yad Vashem. He was the first and only Asian to have been given this great honor. (Afterword)

The publisher, Lee & Low Books provide a Classroom Guide for the book. Here is another lesson plan for conflict resolution. And another guide for students who are a little older - 6th grade lesson plan. The book is versatile in that it is writtten at a lower reading level, but the story itself transcends age.

TITLE: Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story
AUTHOR: Ken Mochizuki
TYPE: non-fiction
RECOMMEND: A very unusual Holocaust book, with a strong moral story.

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