NEW YORK – More than 70 years after her escape, a Jewish woman who fled persecution by the Nazis in the early 1940s thanks to a visa issued by Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara has been identified.
The woman was named Sonia Reed.
Reed left a photo of herself to Japanese engaged in transporting her and many other Jewish refugees by sea to Tsuruga, in Fukui Prefecture, from Vladivostok from 1940 to 1941 following their escape from Europe.
Reed died in 1997, but her children in the United States were quoted as saying that they instantly knew the woman on the photo was their mother when they saw it. They said they were moved beyond words.
Reed, who was born in Poland, was 16 or 17 years old when she fled to Japan. On the back of the photo is her handwritten message saying “Remember me, nice Japanese.”
Sugihara, then vice consul at the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania, issued transit visas to thousands of Jewish people despite an order not to do so by the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, thus helping them travel to third countries via Japan.
Thanks to this, as many as 6,000 Jewish people are said to have been able to avoid the Holocaust.
Reed was one of seven Jewish people who left their photos to the late Tatsuo Osako, who was engaged in the refugee transportation as an official of the former Japan Tourist Bureau, the predecessor of the government-affiliated Japan National Tourism Organization and major travel agency JTB Corp.
Author Akira Kitade, a junior fellow of Osako, has been trying to confirm the whereabouts of the seven people, mainly through interviews with former Jewish refugees now living in the United States. One of them was identified as Reed thanks to cooperation from Aya Takahashi, a journalist living in Canada.
Kitade said that Reed had worked with her husband, who ran a metal plant in a New York suburb. She had traveled to Japan twice.
She had not told her children anything about her escape from Nazi persecution, but sometimes said that the Japanese she met were very kind to her, according to Kitade.
In 2012, Kitade published a book through Tokyo-based Transportation News Co. on Japanese people who supported the escapes of Jewish people from the Nazi persecution.