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A United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Special Exhibition

The outbreak of war in September 1939 trapped more than three million Jews in German- and Soviet-occupied Poland. Only a tiny minority would escape the terror that culminated in the Holocaust. In late 1940 and early 1941 – just months before the mass killings of the Holocaust began – 2,100 Polish Jews fled to the Far East and points beyond. The long flight took them 6,000 miles east from their first refuge in Lithuania aboard the Trans-Siberian Railroad and steamer to Japan. For many of them, the final exile was in Shanghai.

Few of these refugees could have reached safety without the tireless efforts of many individuals. Several Jewish organizations and Jewish communities along the way provided funds and other help. But the most critical assistance came from unexpected sources: representatives of the Dutch government-in-exile and of Nazi Germany’s ally, Japan. Their humanitarian activity in the summer of 1940 was the pivotal act of rescue for hundreds of Jews taking refuge in Lithuania.

“We had memorized atlases and the globe and had become experts in outlining to ambassadors and consuls the most intricate travel routes. Where no route existed, it was for us to create one — if only on paper, for the time being.”

—Refugee leader Zorach Warhaftig, postwar memoir
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