One day, a number of years ago, a cousin of mine from Israel called to ask if my father Saul Jaskoll (Szaps Jaskolka) had escaped Poland through Japan. His name was on the “Sugihara List” that Dr. Hillel Levine of Boston University had published in his book “In Search of Sugihara.” I told him that my father, who had already died, had indeed escaped through Japan, but I did not know anything about a list or how he was able to escape. He never spoke about it. My cousin was wondering if one of his uncles had assumed my father’s name and had somehow survived the war.
Thus began my journey to learn as much as I could about Chiune Sugihara and the mysterious list. I asked my mother, Edith Jaskoll, what she knew about my father’s escape, and all she knew was that we had his Lithuanian passport with a Japanese visa. In New York and San Francisco there were meetings of “The Holocaust Oral History Project and the Sugihara Project.” At these meetings I met Dr. David Kranzler of CUNY who wrote “Japanese, Nazis, and the Jews,” Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, former Rabbi in Tokyo and author of the “Fugue Plan,” Dr. Hillel Levine, Nat Lewin, attorney and Sugihara survivor, and Yukiko Sugihara, wife of Chiune Sugihara.
I learned about his life-saving writing of the famous orange-colored “Sugihara Visas” that saved thousands of stranded Jews in Kovno, Lithuania, as the Germans were advancing toward them. I read every book on the subject, met or spoke with as many people as I could, including the son of Jan Zwartendijk, the Honorary Dutch Consul who issued the famous Curacao “No Visa Required” stamp. The two of them were key to saving the 8,000 to 20,000 Jews.
The movie “Persona Non Grata,” directed by Cellin Gluck, is the best movie yet about the life and heroism of Chiune Sugihara. It was done for the Japanese market and is extremely professional. Cellin Gluck grew up in Japan and did an outstanding job in presenting the lifesaving story of this hero who defied his government to save Jews.
Cong. Bnai Yeshurun, located at 641 West Englewood Ave. in Teaneck, will be showing “Persona Non Grata” this Sunday evening at 8 p.m. for the Teaneck and Bergen County community. There is no admission charge. Following the screening, Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, will talk about the December 2000 Centennial Celebration in Japan to Honor Chiune Sugihara that he attended on behalf of the U.S. Jewish community. Everyone is invited to see this important and historic movie about the Japanese “Schindler.”
By Ira Jaskoll