For most of his life, Chiune Sugihara received little recognition for the dramatic actions he undertook as Japanese vice-consul to Lithuania on the eve of World War II: the rescue of some 6,000 Jews from Poland and elsewhere from the Nazi death machine.
For decades, the Jewish world remained largely ignorant of his heroism. When, in 1985, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center located in Israel, honored the unassuming retired diplomat as a Righteous Among the Nations, Sugihara was too old and sick to travel to Jerusalem to accept the award. He died shortly after.
But his renown has grown in the years since his death, and now Sugihara is being celebrated in a new way with an extraordinary piece of music composed to commemorate his heroic actions.
On April 19 at Carnegie Hall, Japanese-American-Israeli cellist Kristina Reiko Cooper will perform this original piece of music — Lera Auerbach’s Symphony No. 6, “Vessels of Light” — accompanied by the New York City Opera Orchestra conducted by Constantine Orbelian.
The gala concert, organized by Yad Vashem and the American Society for Yad Vashem, which commissioned the piece, will pay tribute to Sugihara’s legacy.
Along with the honorary Dutch consul in Lithuania, Jan Zwartendijk, Sugihara issued life-saving visas to the Jews trying to escape Europe through a complex, illegal scheme involving fake transit visas via Japan to the Dutch-speaking Caribbean island of Curaçao.
Not a single Jew actually traveled to that faraway island off the coast of Venezuela, home to the oldest surviving synagogue in the Americas. But the operation — carried out under the noses of Lithuania’s Nazi occupiers — enabled thousands of Jews to resettle in Shanghai, leading to eventual freedom.
“Being half-Japanese myself, I understand the culture, and I know as a Japanese person that opposing authority goes against every fiber of our being,” Cooper, the cellist, said this month in an interview near her home in Tel Aviv. Born in New York to a mother of Japanese descent, Cooper later converted to Judaism and moved to Israel. She and her husband, Leonard Rosen, are
raising their three children as Orthodox Jews.
“Everybody’s heard of Schindler, who had a factory. But Sugihara had nothing to gain from this. In fact, he had everything to lose,” said Cooper, a visiting professor of music at Tel Aviv University. “He didn’t want recognition and never spoke to anybody about it. He didn’t even know that he had saved anybody until the very end of his life.”
Cooper, who studied at Julliard and comes from a long line of musicians — her father is a pianist and her mother a violinist and former concertmaster of the American Symphony — has a special personal connection to the Sugihara story.
Her husband’s father, Irving Rosen, was one of the Jews whose lives was saved by Sugihara’s actions. Armed with papers enabling Rosen’s family to leave Lithuania and emigrate to Curaçao via Japan, the entire family traveled via the Trans-Siberian Railway from Vilnius to Moscow to Vladivostok, then by sea to Japan — and eventually Shanghai.
“I became obsessed with this story and wanted people to know about it, especially given everything that’s going on in the world with the rise of authoritarian governments, mass dislocations, refugees, wars, rising antisemitism and anti-Asian hate,” Cooper said. “I’m not a writer, a filmmaker or an actress. I’m a musician. People had asked me, ‘Why not put together a nice concert in tribute to Sugihara?’ But I wanted to write something that could last forever.”
With the backing of Yad Vashem and the American Society for Yad Vashem, Cooper asked Auerbach to write the piece, a 40-minute composition for solo cello, choir and orchestra involving 130 performers, including Yiddish “whisperers,” allusions to Psalm 121 and an introductory piece by Japanese composer Karen Tanaka titled “Guardian Angel.”
At Carnegie Hall, Cooper, who plays on an Italian-made Guadagnini cello from 1743, will perform Auerbach’s moving, large-scale symphonic work as a soloist. She’ll also perform in Prague on March 27, Los Angeles on May 18, in California’s Napa Valley on July 18 and in Warsaw on October 8.
“Most people do not pay attention to history, because they’re so wedded to current events,” said the Carnegie Hall event’s co-chair, Peter Till, a board member of the American Society for Yad Vashem. “But this is even more relevant today because of the rise of extremist hate groups. They’ll forever deny that it exists, or ignore it, or say it couldn’t happen here, but hate continues
to repeat itself and people have to face up to it.”
The Sugihara story is especially compelling, Till said, because it’s the first event of its kind that links Holocaust survivors with Asia in general — and Japan in particular.
“This is as much about the music as it is an expression of humanity, of people from diverse cultural backgrounds coming together to save lives,” he said. “For Yad Vashem, this is a very important event because it shows the depth of understanding.”
Of the roughly 28,000 non-Jews who’ve been designated by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, only 40 were diplomats. Sugihara is the only Japanese citizen so honored.
“On the whole, the eligibility process for diplomats is slightly different than for ordinary rescuers, because they had immunity,” said Joel Zisenwein, director of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations Department. “In most cases, they were not at physical risk. But many of them had defied the guidelines and official policies of their foreign offices. Sugihara is even more interesting because he represented an ally of Nazi Germany.”
Zisenwein said Sugihara provided between 2,100 and 3,500 transit visas, though the exact number is not known.
“Literally, all rescuers from the Holocaust era have passed away, so people accepting the award are generally descendants or even grandchildren of the recipients,” Zisenwein said. “It’s interesting that Sugihara received his award for actions prior to the German invasion of Lithuania. Most of the Jews he rescued were Polish refugees who had fled there in 1939. Many countries claim to have their own ‘Schindlers.’ But here indeed was an individual who saved thousands of Jewish lives.”
The evening’s master of ceremonies will be Zalman Mlotek, who is also artistic director of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Tickets and sponsorships are still available for the event.
“It’s not just the people Sugihara saved. It’s the worlds of those thousands of people,” said Mlotek, whose father, Joseph Mlotek, was a 21-year-old Yiddish poet working at a newspaper in Warsaw when World War II broke out. After fleeing to Lithuania, the family heard about Sugihara and was able to obtain transit visas to Shanghai, where the elder Mlotek and his brother Abram spent the war years.
“My father became a Yiddish activist here in New York and set up a network of 200 Yiddish schools all over the country. He published books with my mother and did concert tours for Yiddish musicians,” said Mlotek, 71. “I look at myself today, as artistic director of the Yiddish theater for 20 years, carrying on this same legacy that would have been decimated had it not been for the heroism of Sugihara.”
Auerbach’s composition had its world premiere last November in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas (known in Yiddish as Kovno), where Sugihara’s story took place. Additional performances are scheduled for cities around the world through 2024.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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