After 70 Years: Fragments of Memory - Photos of Rescued Jews

“You want to know about my motives, don't you? Well, it is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees the refugees face-to-face, begging with tears in their eyes. He just cannot help but sympathize with them…With this spirit I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation – and for this reason I went ahead with redoubled courage."
Chiune Sempo Sugihara, the Righteous Among the Nations Japanese Consul in Kaunas, Lithuania

Seventy years ago Jewish refugees in Kaunas, Lithuania were given transit visas signed by Japanese Consul Sempo Sugihara that enabled them to cross the Soviet Union and travel to Japan. During the voyage to Japan, some of the refugees gave their photos to an assistant purser on the ship they were traveling on. Yad Vashem recently received pages from an album with these photos and is seeking your help in providing information about these passengers.

Tatsuo Osako worked for the Japanese Travel Bureau, and was engaged as assistant purser on the Amakusa-Maru. Beginning in September 1940 until March 1941 he made some twenty trips from Vladisvostok to Tsuruga in Japan, bringing Jewish refugees who had fled from Europe with the help of transit visas issued by Sempo Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Kovno.

In 2009, Oasako’s former colleague came to the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo and brought a short memoir that his friend had written in 1995, and a number of photos that had been given to him as a souvenir by the ship’s passengers.

In his memoir Osako describes the encounter between the Japanese crew and the Jewish refugees and the three-day voyage over rough seas:

 “Vladivostok in midwinter was almost a frozen city, the temperature being often below zero. It often happened that the Jewish people first stood in lines on the snow-covered pier and then they came up the gangway. While we were waiting on top of the gangway, we saw the Soviet GPU (secret police) soldiers checking each Jew’s certificate paper before they permitted him or her to go on board…The Jewish people in those days were stateless without their passports and also refugees from Europe, and so they lacked livelihood, some of them looking forlorn and lonely like fleeing travelers. At that time I felt genuinely how sorrowful it was to be stateless and in contrast, I also felt how fortunate I was to be born Japanese [….]..I have heard that the movement of which they are the mainstay for praising the former vice consul Mr. Sugihara, their life savior, has been spreading widely these past years. And I have been deeply moved by the efforts that the Jewish people have made to honor him. “

If you have information, please contact us at righteous.nations@yadvashem.org.il.