U.s. Couple Thank Support That Jews Received In Kobe During Wartime Exodus

U.S. couple thank support that Jews received in Kobe during wartime exodusA Jewish American couple has visited this port city to thank the daughter of a Christian minister who helped Jews fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II.
Sy Stadtmauer, 72, and his 71-year-old wife, Joann, followed the trail of their ancestors who escaped the Holocaust more than 70 years ago, to Japan. They expressed their gratitude to Atsuko Tsutsui, the 91-year-old daughter of Genpachi Saito, and others on Oct. 27.

"When my people's lives depended upon receiving help and assistance, only the Japanese people took us in," said Sy Stadtmauer, who is a volunteer at a Holocaust museum in Florida. "Forever and ever we are grateful. I can only say from the bottom of my heart, thank you."

Saito, who was a minister at a church in present-day Nagata Ward, and his followers assisted Jewish refugees by providing them with apples and other items during their short stay in Kobe.

The refugees came to Japan on transit visas issued by Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986), a Japanese envoy in Lithuania who in 1940 helped thousands of Jews escape the Nazis by issuing them “Visas of Life,” which went against the order of Japan's Foreign Ministry.

Of the estimated 6,000 Jewish evacuees who arrived from Europe to Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, about 4,600 are believed to have gone on to Kobe, one of the few Japanese cities at the time with a sizable Jewish community, before ending up in the United States.

"My father was praying that the Jewish people would have a nation of their own," Tsutsui said. "Together with people at the church, I often saw the Jewish people off at Kobe Port. Those (who had escaped persecution to Kobe) were all very cheerful."

The majority of the Jewish refugees left Japan by autumn 1941.

After Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Saito was arrested the following spring by the Tokubetsu Koto Keisatsu (special higher police), which was in charge of investigating political groups and ideologies considered a threat to the nation. Saito’s church was shut down soon afterward.

Few records remain on how people in Kobe assisted the Jewish refugees during the war. Kobe’s official history book mentions nothing about the movement.

Takayoshi Iwata, a 74-year-old former part-time instructor at Kobe Women's University who was responsible for bringing the Stadtmauers and Tsutsui together, has been researching the city's Jewish community.

"With fewer witnesses alive today, the faint traces the Jewish people left in Kobe will be lost forever if we don't rediscover their history now," he said.