Am Yisrael Chai’s annual Holocaust remembrance ceremony held the evening of Jan. 21 at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North hotel in Sandy Springs drew more than 920 attendees to honor the memory of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who at the dawn of World War II countered the orders of his government by granting as many visas as he could to Jews so they could escape Nazi roundups.
Leo Melamed, who escaped being captured by the Nazis as a 7-year-old boy due to Consul Sugihara’s actions, which also saved his parents, called the Holocaust the standard “for absolute evil.”
Mr. Melamed also praised the United States for enabling him to rise from his family’s abject poverty when he first arrived in the country to eventually become chairman of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group Inc. and founder of the financial futures market.
In his keynote speech, he underscored the importance of the United Nation’s designation of Jan. 27, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration camps, “especially now that anti-semitic voices are getting louder.”
Am Yisrael Chai, a nonprofit is committed to “Holocaust education and learning through action for today’s world and for future generations,” and embraces the words of humanitarian Elie Wiesel: “What unites us as human beings is the aspiration to make the world better, more compassionate, with less conflict, less hardship and hatred, and with more tolerance and understanding.”
Twenty-two holocaust survivors, accompanied by students, opened the ceremony by each lighting a separate candle at the front of the large hall to the accompaniment of the sorrowful music of violinist Joshua Sampson.
Among them was a man who was saved as a baby by being thrown over a barbed wire fence of the Warsaw ghetto to a Catholic family who claimed him as their own throughout the war. Others survived camps throughout Europe, including one who had been shot with two others, but only wounded and left for dead under the corpses of his companions.
The importance of the proverb cited earlier in the program, “And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved the lives of all men,” seemed particularly applicable to Rabbi Binyomin Friedman of the Congregation Ariel, who acknowledged the result of Consul Sugihara’s visas on behalf of his wife’s father, who passed away only a few months ago, by bringing with him a collage of photographs including their five children and their many grandchildren.
Without Consul Sugihara’s courage his father-in-law would never have survived, never married, nor would any of their offspring have been born in keeping with the proverb of “how saving one life can be equated with saving the lives of all men.”
Known as “Sugihara Survivors,” an estimated 6,000 Jews lived on due to the life-saving visas that he issued in defiance of orders from the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo. By so doing, he sacrificed his diplomatic career and risked his life and the lives of his family, to save others.
Today those descendants of the Sugihara Survivors number more than 300,000. In 1985,Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Israel honored him as one of the “Righteous Among Nations” for his actions. He is the only Japanese national to have been so honored.
He was responsible for saving refugee Jews from German-occupied Western Poland and Soviet-occupied Eastern Poland, as well as residents of Lithuania by providing temporary visas enabling them to travel through Russia on the Trans-Siberian railway to Japanese territory.
The life of Consul Sugihara, who died aged 86 in 1986, was evoked by his grandson, Chihiro Sugihara, at the event. The grandson recalled how he had spent time with his grandfather when he was 14 years old.
He remembered the elder Sugihara with deep emotions explaining that his aging grandfather had recounted the main events of his life often when he cared for him as a teenager.
According to his grandson, Consul Sugihara had told him he was denied permission to issue life-saving visas by three separate orders from Tokyo. Nevertheless, he said that his grandfather went ahead and started signing the visas after the third order not to, “because it wasn’t as convincing as the first two.”
In an unusual simile, he said that he thought of his grandfather as a large refrigerator, even though he was shorter than he is, because inside him were things “nice and tasty.”
By filling himself with his grandfather’s memories, he added, he hoped that he also could become a refrigerator full of things “nice and tasty.”
The event was attended by many members of Atlanta’s consular corps including Japan’s consul general for the Southeast, Takashi Shinozuka, who is based in Atlanta, and members of the Japan America Society of Georgia.
Am Yisrael Chai will be planting a Daffodil Memorial Garden at Waseda University in Shinjuku, Tokyo, where Chiune Sugihara studied and Leo Melamed recently received an honorary degree. They also plan on planting Daffodil Memorial Gardens at other locations in Japan, including Consul Sugihara’s birthplace and at the elementary and high schools he attended as well as the port of Tsuruga, Japan, that welcomed the refugees escaping from the Holocaust in Europe.
The Daffodil Project aspires to build a worldwide Living Holocaust Memorial by planting 1.5 million daffodils in memory of the 1.5 million children who died in the holocaust and in support of children suffering in genocides and other humanitarian crises in the world.
The yellow daffodils are symbols for the yellow Star of David patches that the Nazi authorities forced Jews to wear. In Atlanta, Central Atlanta Progress has joined Am Israel Chai in planting daffodils as “a ribbon of consciousness” from the National Center for Civil and Human Rights to the King Center.
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