Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story, by Ken Mochizuki & illustrated by Dom Lee

My Copy: 9781584301578 (image from

I thumbed through my book collection when I got home this afternoon, desperate for a quiet and uplifting story after dealing with 30 screaming and hyped up students.

I salute parents who can do holiday or birthday parties for kids, because I don’t know how the hell you do it.

Well, I found a short one that fit the bill. Passage to Freedom is actually a children’s book, but probably 3rd grade or above. I got this book at the Holocaust museum when my mentor told me about it. I’m glad I impulsively snatched this one up, because it’s not a well-known story, though after 20 years, there is more recognition of the man who became the first Asian recognized for his efforts in the Holocaust by Yad Vashem.

Chinue Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat who lived in Lithuania with his family in 1940. The story is told from the point of view of his son, Hiroki, who wrote the forward when it was published in 1997.

The basic story revolves around a childhood briefly interrupted by events in the world outside. One morning, Polish refugees that had made it to Lithuania were outside the gate, wanting to leave the country and save their families through Japanese visas if possible. When Japan declines his request to write visas twice, telling him he can’t possibly write visas for the hundreds demanding them, he and the family discuss what needed to be done.

The book is about 32 pages, so it isn’t a lengthy or difficult read, but it is a good one that talks about an aspect of the Holocaust not often mentioned. Several diplomats have been singled out as upstanders during this horrific time in history, and Mr. Sugihara’s name has become one of them, partially thanks to this text.

This is a fabulous, amazing story. It’s the wrangling with the decision and doing the right thing to help who you can as best you can that makes it remarkable.

I think it’s a great text. The language might be a bit complex for the really young, but it’d be a great addition to any elementary class that wanted to talk about being an upstander or some brief supplementary material to lessons on WW2 and the Holocaust.

For any child who wants to read about a person trying to make the world a better place, this book is worth the time.

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