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Jewish Refugees Jewish refugees fleeing persecution from the Nazis in 1940 found peace and freedom in Tsuruga.

gWe fled the Nazi persecution at the risk of our lives. There was nowhere in Europe we could feel safe. h
 Invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union The German and Soviet Union army invasion of Poland. (1939)
On September 1, 1939, the German forces invaded Poland and two weeks later on the 17th, Soviet forces stormed it from the east. Poland was divided and occupied according to the secret clause in the Nonaggression Pact concluded by Germany and the Soviet Union. The Jews were stranded without means to obtain approval to flee the country. The Borders of Europe were tightly controlled due to the advance of Nazi German forces, who had implemented a policy to exterminate the Jews. Their only escape route was Japan via Siberia in order to reach their final destinations.

The German and Soviet Union army invasion of Poland. (1939)
 The Only Way to Escape: The Trans-Siberian Railroad
The German army invasion and occupation of France, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands exposed the United Kingdom to the threat of a land invasion. Jews living in Poland fled to neutral Lithuania, however, Soviet troops annexed Lithuania and prevented the refugees from leaving the country. Despite having fled for their lives from the Nazis, they were now facing deportation to Siberia. Unable to remain in Lithuania, many sought a Japanese Transit Visa from the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas.
Jewish refugee's escape route
 Refugees seeking help
Early in the morning of July 18, 1940, many Jewish refugees descended upon the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania. The consul agent, Sugihara, had them nominate five people to represent them and heard what they had come for. He discovered that they wished to obtain Japan Transit Visas. Sugihara realized that although he could, in his capacity, grant several visas, he would have to obtain approval from Japan if he were to issue them for many people. Despite his requests, permission to issue the visas was denied, however, understanding the situation, Sugihara in an act of defiance, ignored the orders, and commenced granting visas.

Jewish refugees waiting to disembark.

Jewish refugees waiting to disembark.
 Painful Journey to Japan
The refugees who obtained the visas were then at the mercy of extreme hardship. While traveling to Vladivostok on the Siberian Railway, Soviet Union Secret Police boarded the train and confiscated the refugeesf jewelry and watches. Many youths were arrested without reason and led away to forced labor in Siberia. By the time they had reached Vladivostok and the ship to Japan, most of them had lost almost all of their money and valuables.

Tsuruga Harbor at the time of the Jewish refugees arrival.

Tsuruga Harbor at the time of the Jewish refugees arrival.
gThe town of Tsuruga looked like Heaven. We will never forget Tsuruga, not in a hundred years. h
 Refugees landing one after another Asahi Newspaper reports on the refugee landings. (June 6, 1941)
Asahi Newspaper reports on the refugee landings. (June 6, 1941)
It is believed that the first group of Jewish refugees with Visas for Life issued by Consulate Representative Sugihara, arrived in Tsuruga Port on September 29, 1940. Many more Jewish refugees landed in Japan after that day, however, the following year, on June 22nd 1941, Germany discarded the German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact it concluded with the Soviet Union and attacked their Russian former allies. Owing to this, the Trans Siberian Railway Europe-Asia route was blocked, and the stream of Jewish refugees to Tsuruga ended with the arrival of the Kananmaru on June 14 that year.

 Press reporting on the refugees' landing
Between August 13, 1940 and June 14 the following year, the local Fukui Newspaper ran headlines reading gStream of refugees land in Tsurugah or gAmakusamaru enters port at 5AM with 350 Jewish refugees.h The Asahi Newspaper sent a correspondent to Tsuruga to report on the situation in a feature article entitled gInternational Tsurugah. Describing the refugeesf situation he wrote: gBelow the deck, there were displaced Jews in soiled furoshiki, wrapping cloth like clothingc carrying two or three trunks, which were emptych
Fukui Newspaper reports on the refugee landings. (February 15, 1941)
Fukui Newspaper reports on the refugee landings. (February 15, 1941)
 Gentle Tsuruga Citizens
There are heart-warming episodes regarding the interaction between the Jewish refugees who arrived under such harsh conditions and the people of Tsuruga. Stories of a boy who took baskets of fruit to the refugees as a gift, and the manager of a bath house near the port, who could not bear to watch them suffer, and offered his bath house to them for free. There is also the story of the owner of the watch shop in front of the station, who felt sorry for the refugees, and bought their watches and rings and gave them food from his kitchen.

Refugees walking along Kagura Street, in front of the Kehi Shinto shrine.

Refugees walking along Kagura Street, in front of the Kehi Shinto shrine.
 Seeking a Peaceful Place to Live
Jewish refugees who landed in Tsuruga soon sought the only Jewish organization in Japan: the "Kobe Jewish Community." The lifestyles of the Jewish people living in Kobe was very comfortable and peaceful compared to the harsh conditions of the escape journey from Europe and Siberia. However, the Japanese transit visas that they had did not allow for long-term stays. They would have to hurriedly set sail from either Kobe or Yokohama to a yet undecided asylum.

Vladivostok - Tsuruga
Harubin Maru
Harubin Maru.
(Gross tonnage: 5,167 tons)
Kehi Maru
Kehi Maru.
(Gross tonnage: 4,553 tons)
Amakusa Maru
Amakusa Maru.
(Gross tonnage: 2,346 tons)
Kanan Maru
Kanan Maru.
(Gross tonnage: 3,310 tons)
Departing Kobe for a safe haven
Kashima Maru.
Kashima Maru. (Gross tonnage: 10,513 tons)

Departing Yokohama for a safe haven
Heian Maru.
Heian Maru. (Gross tonnage: 11,614 tons)
Freedom and peace in hand
gThere was a lively party all night long when we arrived in Japan.
I felt happy and warm on the tatami mats.h
A Jewish family aboard the ship to America from Yokohama Port. (1941)
A Jewish family aboard the ship to America from Yokohama Port. (1941)
Citizenfs accounts of the Port of Humanity
 Citizenfs accounts

Jewish refugees sheltering in the Wakaroku Hotel.
Jewish refugees sheltering in the Wakaroku Hotel.
Tsuruga Harbor circa the Jewish refugeesf arrival.
Tsuruga Harbor circa the Jewish refugeesfarrival.
Course outlining Jewish refugee movements and sightings.
Course outlining Jewish refugeemovements
and sightings.
Tsuruga Station where the Jewish refugees boarded.
Tsuruga Station where
the Jewish refugees boarded.
City scene circa the time of the Jewish refugeesf arrival.
City scene circa the time of the Jewish refugeesf arrival.
gMiraculous watchh
This watch traveled over 10,000 km from Europe to Tsuruga. The Jewish refugees, in the middle of their bitter journey, were forced to sell important items, including watches, jewelry and precious metals for food, or passed the items to others in exchange for their lives. Sometimes the items were even stolen.
Tsuruga was bombed three times during the war. This watch survived both the escape from Europe, and the air raids on Tsuruga. This miracle watch, testament to the mercy of fate, remains in Tsuruga, a town the refugees called gHeaven.h
The watch which was left in Tsuruga
Ships with Jewish refugees arrived in the harbor from the autumn of 1940, and the refugees they carried came to the Watanabe Watchmaker Shop to sell their precious items, watches, rings and jewelry. Store owner Mr. Kiyoshi Watanabe felt sorry for the refugees as he purchased the items. His high school aged daughter Hisa, pleaded with her father for a pretty women's watch. All of the purchased watches and rings were destroyed along with the shop during a war-time air raid, and only this watch was spared from the fire, saved by Hisa. It is the only item that remains as a link to the refugees and the events in Tsuruga. nӎvX
Watanabe Clock Shop

Miraculous watch

This watch was donated to Tsuruga City
by Mrs. Ishida Hisa
Watanabe Clock Shop
The Watanabe Watchmaker shop was established in 1934 by former bank employee Kiyoshi Watanabe. Mr. Watanabe's family returned to his birthplace in Mihama Town after the shop was destroyed in an air raid on Tsuruga in 1945. However many memories of Mr. Watanabe's personality remained. He often acted as the required guarantor for students of his hometown to be admitted to the Tsuruga Prefectural Commercial School. In addition, he would often invite people who missed the last train on the Obama line into his store, and sat up talking with them until the first train the next morning. In the winter he even brought out a heater. Mr. Watanabe is remembered for having taken good care of people, he had a chivalrous spirit and a friendly personality.
gVisas for Lifeh
gVisas for Lifeh. These were Japanese transit visas issued to Jewish refugees by consular agent Chiune Sugihara of the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania.
In this case, the document was issued not individually, but to a family, meaning many more lives were saved thanks to this visa. We hope that seeing this piece of paper will remind you of the importance and value of life.

 Mr. Schagrin's re-discovered gVisa for Lifeh
This visa is owned by Mr. Marcel Schagrin, who currently lives in Zikhron Ya'akov, Israel. His family received this Japanese Transit Visa from Chiune Sugihara at the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas on July 30, 1940, just in time to escape from the clutches of the Nazis. Holding the hands of his parents, he was four years old when he landed at Tsuruga Harbor along with his older sister. The family later left Japan for Shanghai, China. They faced many more hardships until finally finding sanctuary.

Mr. Shagrinfs
gVisa For Lifeh.
Mr Shagrinfs family photo.
 The town where Mr. Schagrin lives
Zikhron Ya'akov is an economic and cultural center of Israel. The town is about 60 km north of Tel Aviv and is known for itfs agriculture and tourism. Winemaking thrives here, and the famous Tishbi Estate Winery was founded in this town by Jonathan Tishbi. The town's main street, referred to as gWine Streeth, is lined with many cafeLs, jewelry stores, antique shops, and boutiques. Being rich in history, this scenic town is a popular tourist destination.

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