The Greatest Person You’ve Likely Never Heard Of…

While not a fan of Facebook, it’s a good place to post photos of my kids for family to view, a place to keep up on what family and friends are doing, and for getting my photography out there. However, beyond that, I really don’t enjoy it much. I find out about most things there because my wife sees something and tells me. Honestly, I like Instagram where people just seem nicer, that’s a bit strange as well because I don’t know most of the people I follow there. Just post a personal opinion on Facebook and watch how many of your friends suddenly become subject matter experts, Facebook lawyers, Facebook MD’s, and Facebook Political Experts. In less time than you can have a pizza delivered to your front door you’ll see a side of people you didn’t know they had. However, every now and then there’s something incredible like the video of Sir Nicholas Winton being surprised on a BBC Program called That’s Life surrounded by some of the 669 mostly Jewish children now grown up that he’d saved during the Holocaust. If a video like that doesn’t get to you, nothing will. Recently, a Facebook post was forwarded to me by my wife, it was historical and she thought I’d like it. It was about a Japanese man the article claimed was the “Japanese Schindler.” It claimed he saved some 6,000 Jews during the Holocaust, five times more than attributed to Oskar Schindler, the subject of the famous 1993 movie Schindler’s List. If everything in the article were true, it seemed to me that Hollywood had made a movie about the wrong person. Believe me when I say I love history and read about it plenty, but also trust me that you could fill an encyclopedia from A through Z on what I don’t know. It’s a vast subject; however, it seemed that something this big would be more well known.

Chiune “Sempo” Sugihara

The Facebook post, while having a few embellishments, I came to discover was mostly true so I began to read more about this incredible man named Chiune Sugihara. It turns out there had been a movie about Mr. Sugihara entitled, Persona Non Grata in 2015 and a PBS film as well, Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness. Chiune Sugihara “was born to a middle-class family in Japan’s Gifu Prefecture on the main Japanese Island of Honshu on January 1, 1900. Sugihara was also called “Sempo,” which was “an earlier rendition of the Japanese character for part of his formal name.”(1) Chiune, or Sempo, “graduated from high school with top marks.” He later studied English at the Waseda University paying for his “education with part-time work as a longshoreman and tutor.” Chiune spotted a classified ad in which “the Japanese Foreign Ministry was seeking people who wished to study abroad and might be interested in a diplomatic career.” After passing the entrance exam, he went to the Japanese language Institute in Harbin, China where he studied Russian, graduating with honors, and converting to Greek Orthodox Christianity in the process. Harbin, also then called ‘the Oriental Paris,’ opened Chiune’s eyes to the rest of the world. From Harbin he took on a role “with the Japanese-controlled government in Manchuria” and was “promoted to Vice Minister of the Foreign Affairs Department.” This job put him “in line to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Manchuria.” While in this job, Chiune “negotiated the purchase of the Russian-owned Manchurian railroad system by the Japanese” and “saved the Japanese government millions of dollars” but had ” infuriated the Russians.” However, as a sign of things to come, Chiune was “disturbed” by the Japanese government’s policies, the “cruel treatment of the Chinese,” and with that he “resigned his post in protest in 1934.” In 1938 Chiune Sugihara was sent for duty at the Japanese diplomatic office in Helsinki, Finland and by 1939 the Japanese government posted him in Kaunas, Lithuania “to open a one-man consulate” before the opening days of World War Two in September 1939. In late 1939, now the Vice-Consul for the Japanese Empire in Kaunas, Chiune had a random meeting with an 11 year old boy named Solly Ganor in a store. During their conversation, young Solly invited Mr. Sugihara to his family’s celebration of the first night of Chanukah. Chiune, and his wife Yukiko, accepted and spent that night with young Solly’s family with Chiune being touched by “the closeness of the Jewish families and how it reminded him of his family, and of similar Japanese festivals.”

Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara

While in Kaunas, part of Chiune’s job was to “report on Soviet and German war plans.” Once war broke out “the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania” and “ordered all consulates to be closed. Sugihara was almost immediately flooded “with the requests of thousands of Polish Jews fleeing German-occupied Poland.(1) As Nazi forces invaded Poland, waves of Jewish refugees “streamed into Lithuania,” traveling “without possessions or money” and bringing “with them chilling tales of German atrocities against the Jewish population” in Poland. The Lithuanian Jews “continued living normal lives” until the Soviets invaded Lithuania on June 15, 1940 ” At that point things began to worsen and “it was now too late for the Lithuanian Jews to leave for the East.” However, the Soviets “would allow Polish Jews to continue to emigrate out of Lithuania through the Soviet Union if they could obtain certain travel documents.” Thousands of Jewish refugees headed to Kaunas and began to line up outside the gates of the Japanese Consulate building. On a “summer morning in late July 1940,” Vice-Consul Sugihara and his family were “awakened to a crowd of Polish Jewish refugees” at the Consulate gates who were “desperate to flee the approaching Nazis.” They understood well “that their only path lay to the east” and only “if Consul Sugihara would grant them Japanese transit visas.” Their lives were literally in his hands as documents from Sugihara meant “they could obtain Soviet exit visas and race to possible freedom.” Sugihara “was moved by their plight, but he did not have the authority to issue hundreds of visas” on his own without permission from his bosses in Tokyo. He “wired his government three times for permission to issue visas to the Jewish refugees” but was denied each time. Finally, Chiune discussed “the situation with his wife and children” because this was “a difficult decision to make.” He had been “brought up in the strict and traditional discipline of the Japanese.” He was conflicted, while he was a career diplomat who “was bound by the traditional obedience he had been taught all his life,” he was also “a samurai who had been told to help those who were in need.” If he signed the visas, Chiune would likely “be fired and disgraced, and would probably never work for the Japanese government again” resulting in “extreme financial hardship for his family in the future.” Everything he had worked for would be gone. In the end, Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara knew what they had to do, while they “feared for their lives and the lives of their children,” they knew they “could only follow their consciences” and that the “visas would be signed.” These visas were called ‘Visas for Life.’

One of Mr. Sugihara’s ‘Visas for Life”

The decision made by the Sugihara’s to defy the Japanese government was made with no regard for their personal costs and from July 31 to August 28, 1940, the Sugihara’s “sat for endless hours writing and signing visas by hand. Hour after hour, day after day, for these three weeks, they wrote and signed visas.” They produced “over 300 visas a day, which would normally be one month‚Äôs worth of work for the consul. Yukiko also helped him register these visas.” During this time Chiune “did not even stop to eat. His wife supplied him with sandwiches. Sugihara chose not to lose a minute because people were standing in line in front of his consulate day and night for these visas. When some began climbing the compound wall, he came out to calm them down and assure them that he would do is best to help them all.”(2) Over a six week period in the summer of 1940, Sempo “worked 18-hour days, eventually writing out by hand 2,139 transit visas ‚Äď a record only discovered years later in the archives of Japan‚Äôs foreign ministry.(3) “Hundreds of applicants became thousands” and Chiune worked hard to “grant as many visas as possible before being forced to close the consulate and leave Lithuania.”(2) Because Sugihara spoke fluent Russian, he was able “to bargain with Moscow to ensure the Jewish refugees had safe passage through the Soviet Union, as well as the right to leave Vladivostok for Japan. The promise of hard currency earned from the sale of refugees‚Äô travel documents helped the Politburo reach its decision in July 1940. Stalin signed the order approving transit for refugees, which the Soviet document said included Jewish religious (yeshiva) teachers and students, salesmen, lawyers and other liberal professions.” And with that, the Sugihara’s had done all they could do.

Sugihara departed for Berlin on September 1, 1940 and later, during “Soviet army’s march though the Balkans in 1944, the Soviets arrested Sugihara together with other diplomats from enemy nations. Soviet authorities held him and his family, under fairly benign conditions, for the next three years. When Sugihara returned to Japan in 1947, the Foreign Ministry retired him with a small pension as part of a large staff reduction enacted under the American occupation.(3) After the war, Chiune Sugihara moved his family to Fujisawa, Japan and “to support his family he took a series of menial jobs, at one point selling light bulbs door to door.” It turned out that the Sugihara’s were correct in their assumptions some seven years earlier as Chiune’s training and promising diplomatic career were gone. In 1947, “his youngest son, Haruki, died at the age of seven, shortly after their return to Japan.” Sugihara “later began to work for an export company as general manager of a U.S. Military Post Exchange. Utilizing his command of the Russian language, Sugihara went on to work and live a low-key existence in the Soviet Union for sixteen years, while his family stayed in Japan.”(4) Today, “beyond the record of 2,139 names Sugihara filed belatedly to Tokyo months after issuing visas, there is no certainty over how many lives were saved.” Estimates of 6,000 people “comes from assuming each holder of a transit visa travelled with two other people, a wife and child. Other researchers have suggested that 10,000 people were saved.” While Sugihara was recognized by Israel during his lifetime, and his fame grew outside of Japan, he remained a humble man with only a few of the refugees finding him in Japan to thank him. “Despite the publicity given him in Israel and other nations, he remained virtually unknown in his home country. Only when a large Jewish delegation from around the world, including the Israeli ambassador to Japan, attended his funeral, did his neighbors find out what he had done.”(5) Chiune Sugihara died at a hospital in Kamakura, Japan on July 31, 1986. While there is no possible way to know the exact number of people saved by Vice-Consul Sugihara, it is estimated that 100,000 people are alive today because their descendants were issued his Visa for Life during the summer of 1940. (6)

Researching and writing this was a labor of love. Thanks to whoever got this man on Facebook where my wife spotted it. Mr. Sugihara was a rare human being who did the right thing, which was not easy. Not only did the Sugihara’s perform such a great deed that summer, they told practically nobody in Japan; Chiune and Yukiko were the epitome of humble. Finally, When I saw that Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara were buried at the Kamakura Cemetery near where we live in Japan, I had to pay respects to these incredible human beings. Getting to the cemetery was easy, finding the grave was not. In the end, we walked a few miles and thankfully four cemetery employees helped us find Mr. and Mrs. Sugihara’s grave. One of the men offered to take a photo of us by his grave, something I hadn’t planned on. While I do shoot gravestones, I don’t shoot them as a sort of tourist shot and try to be very respectful of my surroundings with a camera. The Sugihara’s were definitely humble people, humble in death as well. Their gravesite is also humble, ordinary in fact, so ordinary that we walked by it once without noticing. When people used to ask me, “if you could go back in time and meet anyone, who would it be?” I used to say it was Louis Armstrong that intrigued me, now it would definitely be Mr. Chiune Sugihara. He gave up practically everything to help people he didn’t know during the summer of 1940 and remained humble for the rest of his life.

Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him for refuge. Do what is right because it is right; and leave it alone. I had to do something.”

– Chiune “Sempo” Sugihara

Works Cited:
1. Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Museum, 1980. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/chiune-sempo-sugihara Accessed January 6, 2021.

2. Jewish Virtual Library: A Project of AICE. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 1997. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/chiune-sugihara Accessed January 6, 2021.

3. Rankin, Jennifer. My father, the quiet hero: how Japan’s Schindler saved 6,000 Jews. London: 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/04/chiune-sugihara-my-father-japanese-schindler-saved-6000-jews-lithuania Accessed January 6, 2021.

4. Sugihara, Seishiro (2001), Chiune Sugihara and Japan’s Foreign Ministry, between Incompetence and Culpability. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

5. Lee, Dom; Mochizuki, Ken (2003). Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story. New York: Lee & Low Books. ISBN 978-1-58430-157-8.

6.  Liphshiz, Cnaan (23 May 2019). “Holocaust hero Chiune Sugihara’s son sets record straight on his father’s story”Times of Israel. Retrieved 09 January 2021.

Memorial Day 2017

I shoot stock photography, like the above photo, and there is always a demand for patriotic photos during this time of the year with Armed Forces, Memorial, Independence, and Veterans Days all within a few months of each other. ¬†The night before Memorial Day is a great opportunity to photograph as the flags have been put in place, there are cemetery workers present but the property is generally empty, so I know I’m not bothering anyone visiting graves. ¬†This is from my Facebook page, written about my experience this year, the night before Memorial Day:

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† “Last night I took my girls to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery here in San Diego. ¬†Rosecrans will be packed today so we are going to the ceremony in Coronado. ¬†I do this because I want my girls growing up with, and understanding, Memorial Day and not being part of a generation who doesn‚Äôt seem to care for, or appreciate, these things. ¬†While shooting these photos, I saw a lady sitting on a blanket over a grave, drinking a glass of wine, and wiping tears away. ¬†I decided to talk to her but warned my girls that she may want to be left alone and that no matter her reaction, it was ok. ¬†If she had told me to go away I would have said, ‚ÄúI’m sorry ma‚Äôam‚ÄĚ and left. ¬†Well, I walked up, extended my hand and said, ‚ÄúI don’t want to bother you, but I just want to say thank you for your family’s sacrifice.” ¬†She said thank you, told me it was nice to hear that. ¬†She began telling me about her husband, a Navy Senior Chief and one of the SEAL‚Äôs killed during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan (2005). ¬†He was in the helicopter that was shot down trying to rescue Marcus Luttrell (the Lone Survivor), Michael Murphy and their two fellow SEAL‚Äôs.* ¬†The helicopter going down was the single greatest loss of life in Navy SEAL history. ¬†We talked about her husband and Navy life, how he wanted to be a Master Chief, and then about us and Raquel (my wife) being at sea. ¬†While wiping tears away she assured my girls that ‚Äúmommy will be home soon.” ¬†I almost cried myself at that point, I told her that I’ve gotten to know some SEAL wives where I live and it makes me realize how blessed I’ve been because of their community and what they do; how her husband, and people like him, aren’t forgotten. ¬†Afterwards, my daughter Amanda commented on how her husband was killed 12 years ago and she‚Äôs still crying… ¬† While I could have taken an incredible photo of this lady with the sun going down behind her as she sat on a blanket and an American flag pillow over her husbands grave, our conversation was better than any photo I could have taken.”

From a photography standpoint, I learned that just because you have a camera in hand doesn’t mean you should take a photo. ¬†While I was talking to her, I had my camera the entire time and I never once thought of using it. ¬†This moment was bigger than a photo opportunity; I cautiously entered her space, at a very private moment, and she graciously allowed me to stay. ¬†This experience left an impression not only on myself, but my oldest daughter as well. ¬†I think it’s as close¬†as an eight year old girl can come to understanding¬†that time sometimes¬†doesn’t heal all wounds; that hurt can sometimes¬†last a lifetime. ¬†Fortunately, I didn’t just drive by this lady but¬†took a minute to talk with her and learned about her husband, but mostly their sacrifice. ¬†These families endure more than any of us will ever know, I’d imagine most of these service members will tell you that they’re just doing their jobs. ¬†I think they’re bigger than that and so are their families. ¬†This incredible woman shared a very private part of her life with me and it was an honor to meet her and be in her presence.

 

*Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson.

Point Loma, San Diego

I have a few ‘go-to’¬†places to shoot in the San Diego area, places I can count on to hopefully take¬†a few “keepers” when the weather is right. Point Loma is one of those locations because of the view of San Diego, the altitude (400+ feet above the sea), and the numerous photo subjects readily available there. The history geek in me loves that Point Loma is where¬†the first Europeans landed in California exploring¬†the new world in the sixteenth century.(1) ¬†There are three main locations at Point Loma that are of interest for photography; the old lighthouse, the monument commemorating the Europeans landing in California, and a national cemetery that honors many heroes of our nation. As my friends know, I hate shooting on sunny days, so when I see clouds I usually head to Point Loma or Imperial Beach, my other ‘go-to’ place (see earlier blog entry: Why I Love IB).

The Old Light

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is an amazing way to begin any morning. The lighthouse was first lit on the evening¬†of November 15, 1855 and was functional for approximately 36 years until a new lighthouse was built at a lower elevation and closer to the coast.(2) On the grounds are two buildings; the lighthouse itself which also consisted of living quarters for the lighthouse keepers and their families; the other is the small museum building. These grounds are completely kid friendly and even though I’ve taken my kids here numerous times, climbing to the top of the lighthouse never get old for them! The photo at the top of the page, Distant Lighthouse, is the lighthouse captured¬†through the grass that surrounds the lighthouse. The photo at right, The Old Light, shows the walkway around the light itself. ¬†The lighthouse itself is a great subject close-up or at a distance.

Cabrillo (B&W)

It’s hard to imagine a better view of San Diego and Coronado than that from the Cabrillo National Monument. ¬†Here there are actually two views worth considering; by the monument itself and the patio area at¬†the nearby visitors center. ¬†This monument celebrates the arrival of European explorers¬†commanded by¬†Juan Rodr√≠guez Cabrillo¬†of Portugal. ¬†The Cabrillo National Monument was established in 1913 and¬†features¬†a stone statue of Cabrillo commemorating his arrival¬†on September 28, 1542.(3) ¬†Again, this is another area that my kids can run a little but need to be somewhat careful because of the cliffs near the monument area. Any time I can let my kids run and can shoot pics, it’s a win-win. ¬†The photo at left, Cabrillo (B&W), was shot with an approaching storm in front of the camera while the sun was still out behind me creating a strange lighting effect on the statue.

The Gathering

When you travel to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and Cabrillo Monument, you’ll pass through the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. The cemetery sits on the hills overlooking San Diego Bay and is a beautiful final resting for our fallen service members. There are so many incredible people buried here that, as a retired¬†Navy Musician and former history professor, I could spend an entire day searching the historical people as well as paying my respects to a couple of former bosses. The photo at right, called The Gathering,¬†is the grave of Medal of Honor recipient Michael Monsoor taken a few years ago around the¬†anniversary of his death. It appeared his shipmates gathered for a beer with their friend. Michael Monsoor threw himself on a grenade that landed¬†on a rooftop in¬†ar-Ramadi, Iraq. His actions¬†saved the lives of his fellow SEAL’s; you can read about Monsoon’s action on¬†his Medal of Honor citation. Monsoor is a hero and the very definition of selfless service in my opinion. Another grave, although not a military hero in the same category of Michael Monsoor, is musician¬†Conrad Gozzo.¬† Gozzo is still considered one of the greatest trumpet players-ever, decades¬†after his death. ¬†The photo below, entitled simply Goz, shows his grave not far from that¬†of Monsoor. ¬†During World War Two, many top musicians entered military service to do their part, Gozzo was no different and joined the US Navy. Click this link to here Conrad Gozzo play Torna a Sorrento.

"Goz"

The Meyer

Many times US Navy ships can be seen arriving and departing San Diego and Point Loma offers the perfect view! ¬†The photo at left, called The Meyer, was taken earn¬†the Cabrillo Monument Visitor Center as the USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG-108) departed for the ocean. The below photo, CVN-73, was taken from Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery as¬†the USS George Washington departed. ¬†Both of these photos were taken with a Canon¬†EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 L DO IS USM lens, while a bit heavy its size allow me carry it daily and it sure comes in handy for moments like these. However, you don’t have to be a photographer to appreciate what Point Loma has to offer but in my case, it’s a plus. ¬†Whenever friends or family come to town, were usually make a trip to Point Loma. ¬†However, Old Point Loma Lighthouse and the Cabrillo Monument share the same parking lot so it can get busy, especially in the summer months, and on weekends. If you’ve got the time and don’t like crowds, try going during the week and you won’t be disappointed.

CVN-73

 

  1. Wikipedia, Point Loma, San Diego, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_Loma,_San_Diego  (accessed July 6, 2016).
  2. National Park Servvice, The Lighthouses of Point Loma, 2016, https://www.nps.gov/cabr/learn/historyculture/the-lighthouses-of-point-loma.htm  (accessed July 6, 2016)
  3. National Park Servvice, 2016, Cabrillo National Monument California, 2016, https://www.nps.gov/cabr/learn/historyculture/juan-rodriguez-cabrillo.htm  (accessed July 6, 2016)

Ghost Town

bcpnet.jpgLiving in El Paso, Texas means that there is history in practically every direction. ¬†I am endlessly searching photographic topics that satisfy the blooming photographer in me as well as the history lover. ¬†When those two worlds collide, it is my¬†personal perfect storm! About 90 minutes north of the Texas-New Mexico border exists a real ghost town called Lake Valley and it’s the perfect storm. North of Las Cruces, just off I-25 is Hatch, New Mexico and this would be the place you would want to gas up and get something to eat. ¬†There is only one small unincorporated town between Hatch and ghost town at Lake Valley. ¬†That little town is called Nutt, I believe it’s named that¬†because ain’t¬†Nutt’n there but a biker bar… literally Nutt’n.¬†The 30 minute drive from Hatch can can be kind of cool with wild deer in the fields, but there’s generally not much to see.

Ghost Town Cemetery

Once you arrive in Lake Valley you’ll see the cemetery on the hill to the left. ¬†However, it’s best to go straight to the visitor center and ring the bell for the guide. ¬†Lake Valley has been taken over by the Bureau of Land Management¬†(BLM), there’s no better way to get a quick overview of the place than from the guide. ¬†This photo at right, Ghost Town Cemetery, was attempt to show the isolation of the area as well as how it was once called home for some. ¬†This mining town “was founded in 1878 after silver was discovered. Almost overnight, the small frontier town blossomed into a major settlement with a population of 4,000 people.” (1) ¬†Today it is totally deserted with the exception of the Bureau of Land Management employee (the guide) who lives on the property in a mobile home. ¬†All of these photos were taken with a Canon 6D. ¬†Ghost Town Cemetery was shot with an EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM lens at f/10, 1/125 sec, focal length 16mm, and ISO 100.

“Today, silver mining has played out and all that remains is a ghost town. ¬†BLM has restored the schoolhouse and chapel. The restored schoolhouse provides a glimpse of what schooling in a rural area was like in the early 20th century. Other buildings in the town site have been stabilized to slow further deterioration. There also is a self-guided, interpretive walking tour. A toilet is located near the schoolhouse, and drinking water is available.” (2)

 

Conoco Gas

It might not seem like it now, but Lake Valley Lake Valley actually had a post office ¬†and mail service from 1882 until 1955.(3) ¬†The car in the top photo is a 1935 Plymouth that I’ve not been able to find any other information, it makes for a great photo but that’s about it. ¬†There are plenty of signs warning of rattle snakes so this was about as close as I cared to get. ¬†The photo, called 1935 Plymouth #1¬†was taken with an¬†EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM lens at f/9, 1/80 sec, focal length 19mm, and ISO 100. ¬†This photo of Lake Valley’s Conoco gas station, called Conoco Gas was also taken with the¬†EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM lens at¬†f/9, 1/40 sec, focal length 16mm, and ISO 100. ¬†Lake Valley’s final resident moved out in 1994. (4)

The below photo,¬†Lake Valley, was shot with the EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM lens at f/13, 1/160 sec, focal length 24mm, and ISO 100. ¬†It’s difficult to imagine how well this city and its mines actually performed back in the day. ¬†Miners actually “tunneled into a silver-lined cavity they named the ‚Äúbridal chamber‚ÄĚ that alone yielded 2.5 million troy ounces (78 tonnes) of silver.” ¬†Lake Valley’s mines later “struggled and were worked only periodically into the 20th century” with the exception of the Second World War when the mines reopened “to produce manganese, and continued operating into the 1950s.” (5) ¬†Like most ghost towns, it’s interesting to visit Lake Valley but once you’ve got your photos there isn’t much else to do. ¬†However, if you really appreciate history, it’s a pretty cool way to spend the day.

Lake Valley

 

  1. New Mexico True. http://www.newmexico.org/listing/?lid=25885. New Mexico Department of Tourism. (Accessed April 19,2016)
  2. New Mexico True.
  3. Lake Valley, Sierra County, New Mexico. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Valley,_Sierra_County,_New_Mexico. Wikipedia. (Accessed April 19,2016)
  4. Lake Valley, Sierra County, New Mexico.
  5. Lake Valley, Sierra County, New Mexico.