Albert Russo
Albert Russo
"Art is but a moment of happiness, it is like a lightning of bliss cleaving the never-ending horrors of our world."

The Just by Jan Brokken, 2021: An extraordinary rescue operation.

This hefty book of 640 pages is a revelation.  It ought to be studied in all history classes around the world, for it shows how a handful of human beings, heeding their heart, had the courage, often at the risk of their lives, to save thousands of desperate refugees from the claws of the Nazis.

1940: Facing the threat of annihilation in the Holocaust, thousands of Jewish refugees fled their homes to try and find a safe haven.  This story is also a lesson for all the nations of the world, for nowadays similar crimes are being perpetrated, mainly in Asia and Africa.  It is not thousands but millions of people who are being maimed, raped, and slaughtered.  In the DR of Congo alone, internecine and continental wars have caused the death of six million people in the span of ten years; and the horror continues in West and East Africa and in the Middle East, to name but the most dangerous places. 

In the Lithuanian city of Kaunas, Jan Zwartendijk, the new Dutch honorary consul (the famous and historical Philips concern employed him), immediately took upon himself the responsibility of saving as many of these refugees as he could by issuing visas that would allow them to travel to the Dutch colony of Curaçao, in the Caribbean.  Thousands of desperate men, women, and children sought his help.  

Nazi cruelty knew no bounds; the so-called final solution had already begun, and soon, millions of people would be eradicated by the most brutal system humanity had ever known.  The killing machine would be carried out on an industrial scale.

In that same Lithuanian town, Chiune Sugihara, the honorary consul of Japan, a neighbor of Jan Zwartendijk’s – whom the latter had never met in person – had the same feelings of compassion for these refugees.  He too gave them the necessary visas that would help them escape.  He and his wife worked relentlessly during a dangerously short lapse of time – ten days to three weeks – to issue these life-saving visas to the terrified people who had left behind them their home and most of their belongings.  Why such haste?  Because Poland, the Baltic States, and Czechoslovakia would soon be stripped of parts of their territories due to the confrontation between the belligerent Nazi and Soviet armies.  The borders of these countries would soon be shuffled, and some areas would inevitably fall under the control and jurisdiction of either Germany or the USSR.  

Time was of the essence.  And, concomitantly, the two consuls, now aware of each other’s efforts to save the refugees, set in motion a unique collaboration, toiling long hours, often spending sleepless nights, and sometimes even skipping meals.  In the shadows, a handful of people who had heard of the terrible fate awaiting these poor Jews, suddenly treated as outcasts to be eliminated, worked from afar to help them find a shelter.

Jan Zwartendijk did his utmost to convince the authorities of his country to issue visas for the Caribbean island of Curaçao, the only Dutch colony where the Jewish refugees would be allowed to go.  But to do so, he had to revert to Sugihara so that the refugees could obtain a second visa for Japan.  There is an explanation for this.  The only possible route was to the east, spanning the two continents covered by the USSR, with Shanghai as its final destination.  The Russians would exceptionally let these errant people board the Trans-Siberian Express so that they could reach Japan.  Thousands of Jewish families boarded the trains and traveled under horrendous conditions.  Although this was still better than facing certain death, they were plagued by freezing weather, malnutrition, and epidemics.  The weaker among them couldn’t make it and lost their lives during the agonizing journey, which lasted anywhere from two to three weeks.  Once in Vladivostok, the refugees embarked on ships that would sail to Kobe, in Japan.  This port was a welcome pause, for they could finally recuperate.  For most of them, it was paradise, inasmuch as the local population treated them kindly.  But soon enough, they would have to pursue their journey and settle in Shanghai until the end of the war.  The city, which was under the yoke of the Japanese army, was overcrowded, and the lodgings were small and derelict.  Life in Shanghai was harsh, and the refugees had to make do with what they could find, but despite all, they felt safer than in Europe.

It should be noted that unlike the Nazis, whose allies they were, the Japanese government didn’t harbor any feeling of hatred towards the Jews.  When Joseph Meisinger, the ‘butcher of Warsaw,’ was posted in Japan and asked the Japanese to murder the refugees, the Japanese authorities expressed a categorical refusal.  Most of the Jews whom Zwartendijk and Sugihara helped escape survived the war.  They and their descendants settled in North America, Australia, and elsewhere.  Zwartendijk, Sugihara, and their wives were true heroes, and yet they were shunned by their own countries after the war, and their courageous, unstinting actions have remained relatively unknown. 

After years of research, Jan Brokken wrote this formidable account, having roamed the world to gather all the information he could, through documents that had been sealed, and by interviewing the survivors he managed to find.

What a difference there was between the people of Kobe or Shanghai and the European populations, themselves caught in a vice and suffering from the war, who often not only felt no compassion for their Jewish fellow countrymen, but went so far as to betray them, and either looted their homes with all their belongings or took possession of them unashamedly.  Among the more notorious were the Lithuanians, the Poles and the Hungarians, who not only were happy to see the Jews being forcibly removed from their homes and deported, but quite a few among these traitors participated in their massacre.  

Yet again, the foul stench of antisemitism is polluting the European continent, spreading now to Israel’s shores.  As if that wasn’t enough, Islamic terrorists are tracking them down worldwide, sometimes indiscriminately, killing Christian and Muslim folk too – the latter suffer the most, especially in the Middle East and West Africa.   

However, one must not forget the appalling crimes perpetrated by the Japanese army before and during WWII against the Chinese population and the other Asian people whose countries they had conquered. 

This brings me to the mystery I have never been able to unravel, despite the hundreds of historical articles and books I have read in the five languages I am fluent in.  Why did the Danes and the Bulgarians, both Christian, and the Albanians, a small Muslim nation, refuse to turn their Jewish compatriots to the Nazi invaders?  Why were the Italians, in their majority, compassionate towards the Jews ,when their government belonged to the vile axis?  Compare these to the Croatians, the Slovaks, or the Romanians.  Human nature remains unfathomable.

This book recounts the remarkable story of how two consuls and their allies helped save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust in one of the most incredible rescue operations of the twentieth century.  They are the real unsung war heroes.  

Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial set in Jerusalem, has honored and continues to honor these righteous men and women as their stories are revealed.  I call them the Angels of the Shadow.  The Allied Western nations officially celebrate the end of WWII every year,  honoring the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  They ought to erect one in the name of the Righteous Hero / Heroine, for thousands of these beautiful souls have either died without attracting any attention or else History has forgotten them.

About the Author
Albert Russo who has published worldwide over 85 books of poetry, fiction and essays (35) and photography (50), in both English and French, his two mother tongues, and sometimes in Italian, (Italian being his 'paternal' tongue) - he also speaks Spanish and German and still has notions of Swahili -, is the recipient of many awards,such as The New York Poetry Forum and Amelia (CA) Awards, The American Society of Writers Fiction Award, The British Diversity Short Story Award, The AZsacra International Poetry Award (Taj Mahal Review - US$ 500), the Books & Authors Award, several Writer’s Digest poetry and fiction Awards (winner and finalist), aquillrelle Awards, the Prix Colette and the Prix de la Liberté, among others. His work has been translated into about 15 languages in 25 countries, on the five continents. He has co-published Gaytude with Adam Donaldson Powell, which won Best Gay Book in the USA. Albert Russo’s major books are the AFRICAN QUATUOR (AQ), his memoir CALL ME CHAMELEON (CMC), his humorous ZAPINETTE Series (Zapy), GOSH ZAPINETTE, the first ever series of global Jewish humor, his books of stories and of poetry encompassing 40 years of writing, entitled: THE CROWDED WORLD OF SOLITUDE, vol. 1 -CWS1 (the stories and essays) and THE CROWDED WORLD OF SOLITUDE, vol. 2 (the poems) CWS2 + the two big books dedicated to his beloved mother Sarah Russo (SR) + about 50 books of photos. His definitive biography penned by the Norwegian African-American writer, poet and artist Adam Donaldson Powell, UNDER THE SHIRTTAILS OF ALBERT RUSSO was released by l’Aleph (November 2017), Wisehouse Publishing. A humanist with roots in Central, Southern Africa, and the Mediterranean, he has been acclaimed by James Baldwin, Edmund White, Martin Tucker, Douglas Parmee of Oxford University, Joseph Kessel, Pierre Emmanuel, both of the Académie Française, among many other literary authorities, as well as by his African peers, Chinua Achebe among them. Albert Russo was also a member of the 1996 jury for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature which often leads to the Nobel Prize of Literature. Latest Prize: Best 2013 Unicef Short Story award in defense of childhood worldwide, for Revenge by proxy / Vengeance par procuration.  His 50-odd books of photography have garnered awards in the USA, UK, Russia, France, etc. Some of his work has been exhibited in the Louvre Museum, at the Espace Pierre Cardin, both in Paris, in Times Square, New York, at the Museum of Photography in Lausanne, Switzerland, in Art Berlin, in Tokyo, in Moscow, etc. The former Mayor of the Big Apple, Mr Bloomberg, has lauded his two photo books on Paris and New York. Some of his novels and memoirs have also been filmed in English, with videos 90 and 100 minutes long. Latest award: I have just received the following award. "Dear Albert, It is with great pleasure to announce that you have been selected as a Book Excellence Award Finalist for the following book: 'GOSH ZAPINETTE! the first ever series of global humor’ (770 pages). There were hundreds of entries from around the world and 'GOSH ZAPINETTE! the first ever series of global humor' was selected for its high-quality writing, design and market appeal. Congratulations. The Book Excellence Award Committee.” The Book Excellence Awards Advantage. More than just an awards competition, the Book Excellence Awards provides authors and publishers with extended support and resources on topics such as publishing, marketing, writing, publicity and social media. The Book Excellence Awards is a smart investment on your publishing journey and the results and benefits will last a lifetime! Literary website: www.albertrusso.com - "Art is but a moment of happiness, it is like a lightning of bliss cleaving the never-ending horrors of our world." Albert Russo “Inspiration is like delicious food that your taste buds remember, or a perfume you have long forgotten and whose whiff suddenly brushes your nostrils again, giving you pangs of nostalgia.” Albert Russo
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