Man saved from Nazis by 'Japan's Schindler' returns on journey of homage

Mon Jun 30, 2014 5:23am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - In 1940, a small Jewish boy fleeing the Nazis put in to a remote Japanese port, saved by a Japanese consul who issued exit visas from Lithuania against his government's orders, rescuing thousands of desperate European Jews from certain death.

Leo Melamed arrived in Japan with little more than the clothes on his back but went on to the United States, becoming a lawyer and head of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), where he introduced the idea of financial futures trading.

On Monday, Melamed, 82, was back in Japan to honor Chiune Sugihara, who over a period of roughly a month issued visas that allowed 6,000 Jews to escape war-torn Lithuania and the advancing Nazis - saving several times as many people as Oskar Schindler, made famous in the film "Schindler's List."

"It was truly death's door," Melamed told Reuters. "What was coming was the fire that was going to annihilate all of us, and he made the decision he did." Within a year, almost all the Jews in Lithuania had been killed.

Sugihara was later asked to resign by Japan's Foreign Ministry for defying the rules of a government then allied with Germany and that a year later was at war with the United States. He died in obscurity in 1986.

"He did it because, as he said to his family, 'if I follow the dictates of my government, I will violate the dictates of my God,'" Melamed said.

FLIGHT AND DANGER   Continued...

Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) group's Chairman Emeritus Leo Melamed speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo June 30, 2014.  REUTERS/Yuya Shino