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Essay and Art Contest honors the WWII bravery of Japanese Consul Chiune Siguhara

By Stacey Dresner

WESTBOROUGH – The winners of the 9th Annual Pinkhus & Rhoda Gurevicz Essay and Art Contest were honored at the Jewish Federation of Central Mass.’s Yom Hashoah Commemoration, held May 3 at Congregation B’nai Shalom.

“The Holocaust is a topic of wrenching sadness which the passing of time is unable to diminish for those who lost loved ones and for those who study the lives of those affected,” said Larry Cann, the organizer of the event. “It was a destruction of the Jewish people, a way of life, as nations murdered innocents, often their most dedicated, patriotic, creative and productive citizens as well as children – one and one half million of them – and ordinary people who wanted only to live in peace. But it was also a time of sacrifice, a test of values, friendship and heroism. I often ask what would any of us have done?”

Each year the organizers offer students a “challenge topic” to write about or to create a piece of artwork around.

This year, the challenge topic was Chiune Sempo Siguhara, who served as Japanese Consul to Lithuania from 1939-1940.

In the summer of 1940, when Siguhara and all other foreign diplomats were preparing to leave Luthuania after its annexation to the Soviet Union, he agreed to meet with a group of desperate Jews who were not able to obtain visas to any other countries.

Against orders from his superiors, Siguhara and his wife hand-wrote the Jews thousands of visas for transit to Japan.

He and his wife later spent 18 months in a Soviet prison camp and when he was released he was forced to resign from his consulate position.

“Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him in refuge,” Siguhara reportedly said to explain his act of bravery.

After sharing the story of Siguhara, Cann presented awards to the students who entered the challenge.

“There are only winners who learn,” Cann said. “A blessing to all of you who took the time to remember…Remember that you are the generation that must carry Zachor to the next generation, not only to remember their deaths, but to celebrate their lives.”

CAP:  The first place senior art project by Julia Witmyer.

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