Wednesday, June 13, 2018 10:05 AM
“My grandfather took a personal stand and decided against orders to ferry the Jews to safety.”
Japanese musicologist Prof. Ryuichi Higuchi visits the KKL-JNF Books of Honor in Jerusalem, to see the honorary inscription of his grandfather Japanese Imperial Army Lieutenant-General Kichiro Higuchi, who saved 20,000 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.
Tuesday, June 12, 2018: On entering KKL-JNF headquarters in Jerusalem, Japanese Professor Ryuichi Higuchi bowed in greeting, as is customary in Japanese culture, and shook hands with KKL-JNF Books of Honor Custodian Efrat Benbenisti.
Benbinisti welcomed her guest from the Far East and led him upstairs to the Books of Honor Hall. Higuchi, a professor of musicology and an orchestra conductor, is the grandson of Japanese Imperial Army Lieutenant-General Kichiro Higuchi, who personally saved the lives of 20,000 Jews fleeing the persecutions of Nazi Germany.
Higuchi came to the KKL-JNF head office in Israel to see for himself the inscription of his grandfather’s name in the KKL-JNF Golden Book. This was the professor’s first trip to Israel. Benbenisti told him that she is honored to meet him.
“It is very emotional for me because we are reliving the past. You must be very proud of your grandfather.”
Shariel Gun from KKL-JNF’s Resource Development Division described to the visiting professor the mandate of this international Jewish organization from its inception and explained how its goals have changed over the years.
“KKL-JNF was established 117 years ago, some 40 years before the declaration of Israeli independence. At that time, its main activity was to purchase land that would one day be part of the new country and to plant trees. Today we still plant trees but our focus has changed to issues such as water management, environmental research, and recreational activities in nature for the citizens of Israel.”
Gun screened a short film showing the full range of KKL-JNF activities.
Following the screening, Benbenisti showed Higuchi the inscription for which he had come all the way from Japan to see. It was in KKL-JNF’s sixth Book of Honor, which was started in 1939. The entry made in 1941 reads:
“General Higuchi - Tokyo, inscribed by the National Jewish Consul in the Far East in Harbin - Abraham Kaufman”.
Professor Higuchi was delighted to see Kaufman’s name next to that of his grandfather because he said, “the two men were good friends”.
Higuchi explained that before serving in the army his grandfather was a consul for Japan in Poland and was very aware of the fate of Jews in Europe.
“Later in 1938, as a senior officer in the Imperial Japanese army with the rank of Lieutenant General, he heard that 20,000 Jewish refugees had gathered in Otpor on the Siberian-Manchurian border and were seeking entry into Manchuria, which was then under Japanese control. Japan’s official position was to reject the Jews request in order not to offend Nazi Germany. However, my grandfather took a personal stand and decided against orders to ferry the Jews to safety.”
General Higuchi had the Jews transported to Harbin where he provided them with food and housing. Those Jews survived the war. Some came to live in Israel.
At the end of the visit, Efrat Benbenisti and Shariel Gun presented Professor Higuchi with a framed KKL-JNF Golden Book Certificate.
The Professor thanked his hosts for their hospitality and told them that he was very pleased to have come to witness up-close an important part of his family’s history.