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FAMILY ODYSSEYS

Melamdowicz
Icchok Melamdowicz was a mathematics teacher and city councilman in Bialystok, Poland, before the war. On September 8, 1939, he fled the city with other prominent citizens frightened of being taken as hostages by the Germans. Icchok did not return home after the Soviets occupied the city a week later, fearing arrest by the Russians. His wife Fejgla and son Lejb joined him in Vilna in late October 1939. In January 1941, five months after receiving two of the last visas signed by Sugihara, the family left Lithuania. That April they sailed from Japan to the United States.

Sondheimer
A German Jew who had fled Nazi Germany in 1934, Moritz Sondheimer owned a small factory for the manufacture of plastic buttons and combs in Kaunas, Lithuania. In summer 1940 the Soviets appropriated the business, and that August he, his wife Setty, and children Hanni and Karl obtained “Curaçao visas” from Zwartendijk and Japanese transit visas from Sugihara. They were among the few recipients who were not Polish citizens. Arriving in Japan in early 1941, the Sondheimers failed to obtain destination visas and were deported in late summer to Shanghai. After the war they immigrated to the United States.

Dymant
On September 5, 1939, law student Jakub Dymant heeded a radio call for all males of military age to leave Warsaw before German forces arrived. On October 23, he reached Vilna. In August 1940, Jakub obtained a “Curaçao visa” from Zwartendijk and a Japanese transit visa from Sugihara and in February 1941 left Lithuania. After five months in Japan, he received a visa for Burma with the help of Poland’s ambassador Tadeusz Romer. In early 1942 Japanese forces attacked Burma, and Jakub fled to India. He came to the United States in 1946.

Swislocki
Before the war Abraham Swislocki was a journalist in Warsaw and his wife Masza an industrial chemist. After the German invasion of Poland, he was called up for military service and later made his way to Vilna. Following a hazardous journey Masza with their son Norbert joined him. On July 27, 1940, the family obtained visas from the Dutch and Japanese consuls in Kaunas, and six months later, left for Japan. Failing to secure passage on a ship sailing to Palestine, the family was forced to pass the war years in Shanghai. They immigrated to the United States in 1947.

Szepsenwol
In 1939 Rykla Szepsenwol, a widow, lived with her daughters Fejga and Chaya in Volozhin in eastern Poland. After the Soviets occupied the town, the girls left for Vilna with friends from their Zionist youth group. A few months later, Rykla hazarded the illegal border crossing to join them. In May 1940 Fejga and Chaya received immigration visas for the United States. Using travel funds provided by relatives living there and a Japanese transit visa from Sugihara, they arrived that fall in the United States from Japan. A year later, Rykla followed her daughters to America.

Lifszyc
David Lifszyc was chief rabbi of Suwalki in northeastern Poland before the war. In late October 1939, after German occupation forces ordered all Jews to leave the Suwalki region, Lifszyc led his family on a perilous flight through swampland to the Lithuanian border. His newborn daughter, Avivit Rashel, died during the crossing. Among the few refugees to obtain Japanese transit visas in Moscow, Rabbi Lifszyc and his wife Cypa and daughter Shulamis crossed Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad in March 1941. That May they sailed from Japan for the United States.

“We felt that we lost everything we ever knew. But at the same time we felt that our life was a gift because it was a miracle – an accident. We tried not to struggle with the question, ‘Why do I deserve to be alive when my brothers died, when my family died?’”

—Refugee Yonia Fain
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