Today is Bright Tuesday. It’s also Holocaust Remembrance Day: Yom HaShoah in Hebrew. On this day, we’re still singing “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,” and on this day we remember deaths, so many deaths. Today the calendar takes the celebration of light and joins it to the memory of darkness. Today our hearts are filled with joy and with horror.
It’s important to remember the darkness and the horror, to remember those who died, and how they died, and why. It’s also important to remember those who fought the darkness.
That’s why the Church keeps the stories of the saints. The saints are our mentors. By keeping their memories alive, we learn that light overcomes darkness. By their example, we learn that we can fight evil, that we can and must choose good.
That’s why we need to know the story of Chiune Sugihara.
Chiune Sugihara of blessed memory has not yet been glorified as a saint of the Orthodox Church, although I believe that he will be. In 1985, Israel named him one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Sugihara is also the subject of Passage to Freedom, a picture book written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee.
Passage to Freedom
Passage to Freedom is a fabulous book in every respect. Let’s talk about the illustrations first. They are magnificent. To create them, Lee used a technique I’d never heard of before. He applied beeswax to paper, and when it hardened, he etched the images into the wax. Then he used paints and colored pencils to complete the work. The final illustrations look like old sepia-toned photographs.
These pictures are warm and human. Yet they create a sense of distance between the viewer and the events depicted. For a book introducing the Holocaust to young children, that distance is, I think, a good thing. If the illustrations had been worked in vivid colors, if they created a sense of immediacy, I think the story could have been too difficult for a sensitive child to bear.
Mochizuki’s story also keeps the horrors at arm’s length. It is told from the point of view of Hiroki Sugihara, Chiune’s son, who was five years old at the time of the story. Hiroki didn’t understand all of the horrors of the Holocaust. He only knew what his mother told him: that if his father didn’t help the Jewish refugees, then bad men would kill them.
Sugihara asked for permission from his government to issue visas to the Polish Jews in Lithuania who had come seeking his help. With the visas, these Jews could travel through Russia to Japan and then to other countries. Three times, Sugihara asked permission. Three times, he was denied.
Sugihara was faced with a choice: Would he obey his government, or would he obey God?
Chiune Sugihara chose to obey God.
But do get Passage to Freedom, too. It’s a wonderful book.
And a wealth of material is available to help you use the book to teach your children about the Holocaust, and about Chiune Sugihara of blessed memory. There are discussion guides, activities, even a documentary on PBS.
And there is an icon and a troparion, if you should be inclined to use them in your personal devotions.
St. Alban, Protomartyr of Britain and Patron of Refugees: St. Alban was a Roman soldier who protected a Christian priest fleeing persecution.
Baseball Saved Us: A Review: Author Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee create another powerful picture book about events during World War II. This one is about the Japanese internment, told through the eyes of a little boy and baseball.
Silent as a Stone: A Review: This picture book tells a story from the life of Mother Maria of Paris, who saved Jewish children from the hands of the Nazis, by taking them out with the trash.