The Legacy of Chiune Sugihara:
The Great Escape (2)
with Sugihara, there is no evidence that he had anything to gain from what he did and he certainly had everything to lose from what he did. So
what happened in the 1990s and then in the last 10 years, my grandfather and various other people who are now called Sugihara Survivors and
various academics in the United States and also in Japan began to unearth Sugihara’s story. And Sugihara’s family has played a lead part in this.
So now in Japan, the name Sugihara is very well known.”
It was important for Ben Manski to understand this person who saved his family and what his motivations were.
“What happened to Chiune Sugihara is a matter of some dispute,” Manski said. “He was transferred after he issued the visas, I believe, to
Austria and then to Germany. And then he was called back to Japan and was disciplined. Eventually, during the period of MacArthur’s occupation
of Japan, he was pushed out. It is unclear of whether he was fired because of what he had done or whether he was part of the house-cleaning
that was happening at that time. He believed he was fired because of his actions and he was penalized for that. He had great difficulty in finding
work. Eventually he ended up relocating to the Soviet Union working for a Japanese company. He lived many of the last years of his life in
Moscow. His first wife was a White Russian. His second wife was Japanese. He was a very interesting character and many books were written
about him. What is very clear is that this guy came from what would be considered in the United States an upper middle class background. He
was highly educated. His father was a rising star, someone who rose on his own merits. One would expect that someone like Sugihara would
have come out of the war on his feet. And it is pretty clear that didn’t happen. He was very tight lipped about what had happened. There were only
a few interviews with him before he died in the mid-1980s. What became clear to me was that he was — just as many diplomats were then and I
assume many are today — involved in the intelligence service for Japan. There are probably many things he didn’t want to talk about later on due
to the Code of Silence.”
Manski’s grandfather was scheduled to go back to Suruga, Japan for a commemoration of Sugihara’s deeds. But Samuil Manski died in June and
so it was Ben Manski along with his wife Sarah who was selected to represent his grandfather at the celebration.
For several days, Manski and his wife were the center of the Sugihara commemoration. The celebration began the moment they arrived in Suruga.
"We had five minutes and I had to change in the train into a suit and tie,” Manski recalled. “When we got off the train, there were cameras
shooting us getting off the train. Then they whisked us on a tour of the city to the Shinto shrines and Buddhist temple. As we were going down the
main street, we saw some statues from Japanese anime. It just so happens that I grew up with one of those cartoons in Israel. Then we had a
formal dinner with the mayor, which was extremely formal. We had to each get up and we were introduced in diplomatic fashion. At some point,
the mayor said, ‘Now let’s celebrate.’ Then music started playing and it was ABBA. It was very bizarre. ABBA is very popular in Japan. The mayor
is a very charming person. He plays in a rock and roll band. And he would remind Wisconsinites of any number of mayors, perhaps Ed Thompson
foremost among them.”
They also made a five-day boat ride to Vladivostok where Samuil Manski boarded the ship for Japan. Manski gained more insight into his family’s
history or what might have been their history.
“I met a woman there who is on the synagogue committee who is quite elderly,” Manski said. “She had arrived in Vladivostok when she was a
child in the 1930s. As it turned out, her family had fled eastward and had not been able to exit the Soviet Union because they did not have
destination or transit visas. They tried to leave for many years. Living there had been very difficult. Her sister had been sent to the gulag and was
released when Stalin died. Her father had been a rabbi and had trouble finding work. I could see in her what the alternative history for my family
might have been at one stage of that trip. Or they may not have survived at all.”
It was a trip in time for Manski to see what was and what might have been.
|Ben Manski represented his
recently-deceased grandfather in a
Suruga, Japan celebration of the life
of Chiune Sugihara, who helped
thousands of Jews to escape the
Nazis before World War II.
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 2 of 2
If it were not for Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese vice-consul in Lithuania at the eve of World War II, the
grandfather of Ben Manski and thousands of other Jews may not have escaped from the Nazis and the
Holocaust. Against the wishes of his superiors, Sugihara issued transit visas to virtually country-less Jews
so that they could flee the advancing Germans and the violence in Eastern Poland. He did it against the
wishes of the Japanese and German governments.
The bravery of Chiune Sugihara was little known to many of those who fled. Such was the case of Samuil
“In 1990, I think my grandfather didn’t have much awareness of who this man was who issued these visas,”
Manski said. “He was simply grateful. It seemed like a miracle that he issued these visas. But what has
happened in the course of about 20 years is that there has been an increasing number of people around the
world, including my grandfather, who decided to find out who Chiune Sugihara was and find out what
motivated, where he came from, why he took an action that was very costly to him later on in life and which
was against the express orders of his government. They wanted to see if this was a man who had been
more heroic than more famous heroes like Schindler. For a while, people were calling him the Japanese
Schindler, but the reality is that my grandfather often said that Schindler made millions of dollars off of the
Jews that worked for him. Certainly Schindler took great risks. But it was a complicated heroism whereas