Leo Melamed (born Lejb Melamdowicz) is the son of Fejga and Icchok Melamdowicz. He was born on March 20, 1932 in Bialystok Poland, where his father was a mathematics teacher in Yiddish schools, primarily the Grosser Schule. Icchock was also a prominent Bundist and a member of the Bialystok city council. Soon after the start of World War II, on September 8, 1939, Icchok fled the city with other prominent citizens frightened of being taken as hostages by the Germans. Fejga and Lejb remained behind since Icchok felt women and children would not be harmed. Icchok did not return home after the Soviets occupied the city a week later, fearing arrest by the Russians. Instead he fled to independent Vilna and then summoned his wife and son to join him. Fejga and Lejb left in October 1939 on the last train from Bialystok before the border closed. After the Soviets seized control of Lithuania, Icchok joined a Bundist resistance group and sought ways to leave Lithuania. On August 14, 1940 the family received two of the last Sugihara visas (numbers 1758 and 1768), even though they did not have destination visas. They took the Trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow to Vladivostok and from there boarded a boat to Japan. After arriving in Japan, Fejga and Lejb went to Kobe while Icchok remained in Tokyo to try to obtain American visas. He explained that as a Yiddish teacher with specialized skills, he would not displace any American workers. He received special consideration because the American Federation of Labor had included his name on a list they had submitted to the State Department. That April, the Melamdowicz family sailed from Japan to the United States on the Hidaka Maru and arrived in Seattle on April 18, 1941. Lejb's two grandmothers, his aunt and all of his cousins stayed behind and perished in the Holocaust. They were all burned to death a synagogue in Bialystok on the second day of the German occupation, June 28, 1941.