Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara, hero of the Holocaust

A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara, hero of the Holocaust by Alison Gold provides a more in-depth look at Sugihara's story that was initially told in Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story (reviewed March 8, 2010) by Ken Mochizuki. For early elementary students who have read the Mochizuki book, Gold's book will be a perfect follow up with details of the life and courage of Sugihara as well as the poignant stories of families who were survivors.

To briefly review Sugihara's story: Against orders from his Japanese superiors, Sugihara issued visas for over 6,000 Jews for travel through Russia to Japan during the WWII years. He did this as part of his service as the Japanese diplomat to Lithuania. He wrote these visas by hand, he wrote them day and night, he wrote them because he could not bear the idea of the suffering of these innocent people. He was removed from the post and along with his family, he was sent to an internment camp in Russia as the war ended. After returning to Japan, he was removed from diplomatic service in disgrace and his youngest son died from complications due to the harsh conditions of the camp. Because of his heroic actions over 40,000 Jewish people owe him their lives. He could have become depressed over all he had lost, instead, he was perhaps bolstered by the Japanese saying Shiimbo shiite seiko suru - success comes through overcoming adversity. (p. 167)

The book is informative and honest. The author interviewed Sugihara's wife and son, as well as a number of survivors with Sugihara visas. The author also drew heavily on written materials from both the family and the survivors. Here is a poem the author included. It was written by Sugihara's wife Yukiko:

The train pulls away,
hands reaching out the window
Passing out visas
Hands reaching towards the windows
for visas for life --
Hope (p. 99)

PBS has a film entitled Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness (2005). Visit the PBS website to view a trailer for the film, an interactive timeline of Sugihara's life, additional readings and videos, and teacher resources. Although this seems to be aimed at older students, I suspect it could be modified to a lower grade level. One thing that I found interesting was the discussion of Boshido, traditional samurai values, which were part of Sugihara's upbringing on his mother's side of the family.

Another interesting website is Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats. This non-profit organization was originally created to honor Sugihara, and has now been expanded to include any diplomat who saved Jewish people during the Holocaust.

TITLE: A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara, hero of the Holocaust
AUTHOR: Alison Gold
PAGES: 176
TYPE: non-fiction
RECOMMEND: A very inspiring book, should remind us to do the right thing in all circumstances, without regard for the negative consequences.


Shaynie said...

This looks very interesting; I like "change of pace" Holocaust fiction.

sandhya said...

Interesting, isn't it, that people who really didn't have much of a stake in the Holocaust so selflessly helped the victims?