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School book received by a Polish Jewish refugee boy in school in Japan

Object | Accession Number: 2001.235.23

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    Brief Narrative
    Textbook given to 8 year old Lejb Melamdowicz in school in Kobe, Japan, where his family escaped to safety with transit visas supplied by Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Soviet-occupied Kovno, (Kaunas), Lithuania. Leo was from Bialystok, Poland, where he lived with his parents, Icchok and Fejga. In September 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. His father, a mathematics teacher and city council member, fearing arrest, fled to Vilna where Lejb and Fejga joined him in October. Vilna was initially transferred by the Soviets to Lithuania, until August 1940, when it was annexed into the Soviet Union. Having obtained the transit visas, the family left in December 1940, traveling on the Trans-Siberian Express to Vladivostock, arriving by boat in Japan in January 1941. Icchok then obtained visas for the United States, and the family sailed on the Hidaka Maru for the US, arriving in Seattle in April 1941.
    received:  1941 January-1941 March
    received: Kobe-shi (Japan)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Leo Melamed
    Subject: Leo Melamed
    Lejb Melamdowicz (later Melamed) was born on March 20, 1932, to Fejga and Icchok Melamdowicz in Bialystok, Poland. His father Icchok was a member of the city council and a leader in the Jewish Labor Bund, a secular, socialist organization that promoted Yiddish culture and education. It also operated four large schools. Icchok was a mathematics teacher in one of these schools, primarily the Grosser Schule.

    On September 8, 1939, a week after the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, Icchok fled Bialystok with other prominent citizens who feared being taken as hostages by the Germans. Fejga and Lejb remained behind since Icchok felt women and children would not be harmed. One week later, Bialystok was occupied by the Soviet Union, per the terms of the German-Soviet Pact. Icchok did not return home, fearing arrest by the Soviets. He fled to Vilna, Poland, which was occupied by Soviet troops but still maintained some independent administrative control. He sent word that Fejga and Lejb should join him there. They left in October on the last train from Bialystok before the border closed. At the end of the month, the Soviets transferred control of the region to Lithuania which had long claimed Vilna as its rightful capital. The Lithuanian authorities put in place measures in schools and communities to replace Polish culture with Lithuanian elements. Icchok joined a Bundist resistance group and sought ways to leave. On August 3, 1940, the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania, and the Jewish Polish refugees, most of whom were aware of the Soviet deportation of Jews from Soviet occupied Poland, feared the same action here. On August 14, the Melamdowicz family received transit visas, numbers 1758 and 1768, issued by the Japanese consul, Chiune Sugihara, who recognized the humanitarian crisis and helped several thousand Jewish refugees to ecape to Japan. Although the family lacked destination visas, they left in December aboard the Trans-Siberian railroad, travelling from Moscow to Vladivostok where they boarded a boat to Japan. After arriving in Japan in January 1941, Fejga and Lejb went to Kobe, while Icchok remained in Tokyo to try to obtain American visas. In his application, he explained that as a Yiddish teacher with specialized skills, he would not displace any American workers. He also received special consideration because the American Federation of Labor had included his name on a list they had submitted to the State Department. The visas were granted and, in April 1941, Lejb and his parents sailed from Japan to the United States on the Hidaka Maru, arriving in Seattle on April 18. Lejb’s family members who remained in Bialystok, including two grandmothers, his aunt, and all of his cousins, were burned to death when the synagogue where they were ordered to gather was set on fire on the second day of the German occupation, June 28, 1941.

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    Administrative Notes

    The school book was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2001 by Leo Melamed.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-09-05 15:27:56
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