The Sugihara Story

I was five years old.

In 1940 my father was a diplomat, representing the country of Japan.  Our family lived in a small town in the small country called Lithuania…one early morning in late July, my life changed forever…

“There are a lot of people outside,” my mother said.  ‘We don’t know what is going to happen…They have come to ask for your father’s help…Unless we help, they may be killed or taken away by some bad men.”

My father said to my mother, “I have to do something.  I may have to disobey my government, but if I don’t, I will be disobeying God.”

Back then, I did not fully understand what [my father] had done, or why it was so important.

I do now.

Hiroki Sugihara tells about the weeks when his father wrote permits for several thousand Jews to travel across Russia to Japan.  That was the only direction these people could go to escape from the Nazis who wanted to kill them.  If they could take a train all the way across Russia, and a ship to Japan, they could go on to other countries and live safely.

The Japanese government ordered Mr. Sugihara not to write the travel permits.  Mr. Sugihara knew he could be punished, but he wrote permit after permit, day after day, until he was sent away from Lithuania.

Hiroki Sugihara, who wrote Passage to Freedom, was that five-year-old boy.

Curiosity Forever!

Curiosity is a normal human trait.  Some people are insatiably curious.  Most explorers and scientists possess more curiosity than average.  For some of them, it is their strongest talent.

David McCullough quotes Miriam Rothschild who quotes Karl Jordan who may be the epitome of curiosity.  Karl, 96 years old, curator of the Tring Museum (I didn’t recognize either his name or the museum either, so don’t think I expect you to have heard of it),  is peering through a microscope.  He tells Miriam,  “I shall know it all in the next world.  I shall know it all in the next world.”

Suppose God made us to be naturally curious, which seems evident if you’ve ever tried to answer a small child’s questions.  Suppose there is new life in “the next world,” after death.  If we are ourselves in that life, we will still be curious.  Can you imagine the excitement of finding answers to every question you ever had, a solution to every problem you ever faced?   That’s what Karl Jordan expects.

David McCullough interviewed Miriam Rothschild for his book Brave Companions.  He obviously enjoyed knowing her.  She’d be fun as a friend; there’s no time to be bored with her!

“Miriam Rothschild knows all about butterflies and fleas, birds, fish and poisons, lady bugs (my first real love), medieval meadow grasses, Shetland sheep dogs, photography, farming, Clark Gable, and the wild flowers of Israel.  She designs her own clothes.  She has an art gallery devoted to paintings by schizophrenics.  She owns a pub.  She has raised six children…”

So begins David’s chapter on Miriam in his book.  His interview ends with the quotation from Karl Jordan, the curator of the museum the Rothschild family founded.  Check out the museum website for a photo of Lord Rothschild driving his carriage with a team of three zebras and one horse!

Most of McCullough’s books are at least as thick as the Harry Potter books, but this one is not so thick, and because each chapter tells of a different person, you can read the chapters that interest you most.  The subjects include pioneer pilots, the Brooklyn Bridge architect, explorers, a photographer, of course Miriam Rothschild, and more.

Curiosity drives exploration into every kind of knowledge.  Curiosity must be why David McCullough finds out so much about the people and events he writes about.  Miriam and Karl possessed so much curiosity that maybe you could say they were possessed by it.

“I shall know it all in the next world!”