A Twice Saved Life
by Storyteller Alton Chung
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 8 minutes, 45 seconds.
Even people who differ greatly from ourselves can turn out to be heroes.
Storyteller Alton Takiyama-Chung tells “A Twice-Saved Life,” a story about Solly Ganor, who as a child was in a concentration camp in Dachau during World War II. Ganor grew up in Lithuania where he met the Japanese counsel to his town; later, Ganor looks into Japanese eyes again when he is saved by American soldiers after the liberation of Dachau. At first, Ganor thought he had fallen into the hands of the enemy, since the country of Japan was one of the Axis powers during World War II. He later learns that these solders were part of the 442nd combat team, the all Japanese American unit. Years later, while living in Israel, Ganor reunites with his rescuers when members of the 442nd come to be honored by the Knesset, the Israeli house of representatives..
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REFLECTIONS & DISCUSSION QUESTIONS ABOUT
A Twice Saved Life
- How do you first understand that Solly Ganor is Jewish? Why is it ironic that at the beginning of the story he hopes to help the Polish Jews?
- Why is Ganor surprised to meet Chiune Sugihara? How does meeting Sugihara help Ganor later in life?
- Ganor calls himself an “emotional amputee.” What does he mean by that? What helps him heal?
- Why is it significant that it is Clarence Matsumara who rescued Ganor after Dachau? Why does Ganor find the 442nd unusual?
Look up Chiune Sugihara and the all Japanese American 442nd combat team. . .What did you learn that you didn’t know before? Why do you think you didn’t learn about this in your history class?
STORY TRANSCRIPT of
A Twice Saved Life
by Storyteller Alton Chung
Note : The transcript below of the video and audio story is not in correct text book English. It is a transcription of the spoken story. There are also a few variations from the spoken word. This text is for your guidance and reference as you start to study and think about this story.
Hello, my name is Alton Takiyama-Chung. The story I’m going to tell you right now is called “A Twice-Saved Life.” It’s from a larger collection of stories which I created called OKAGE SAMA DE—I Am, What I Am, Because of You.
Now, “A Twice-Saved Life.”
We Jews have a saying: “to save one life is to save the entire world.” Kaunas, Lithuania is just a dot on the map for most Americans, but, for me, it’s where I grew up. I was 11 years old when Hitler invaded Poland from the west in September of 1939. Two weeks later Russia invaded Poland from the east, and over the next several months Polish Jews began streaming across the border into Lithuania.
In December of that year, like many other Jewish children in Lithuania, I decided to give my Hanakkuh gelt, my Hanakkuh money, to the refugees who had nothing. And, then, wouldn’t you know it!?! The new Laurel and Hardy film came to town and I just had to see it.
I decided to go see my aunt who ran a gourmet grocery store in downtown Kaunas. When I walked into the store, there was an elegantly dressed man with strange, slanted eyes. I had never seen a Japanese man before. Well, I told my aunt what I needed, and the man laughed and he reached into his pocket and said, “Here, here take it. Take the money, take it.” I said “No, no, no, you are a stranger. You are not family. I cannot take money from you.” “Well, for the holidays. Why don’t you consider me to be your uncle?”
I took the coin, “Well, uncle, my name is Solly Ganor.” “And my name is Chiune Sugihara.” Chiune Sugihara! He was the counsel for the empire of Japan to Kaunas.
Well, time went on. June 1941, Germany invaded Lithuania. Eventually my family was split up, and I was sent to Bavaria in Southern Germany to a little town outside of Munich called Dachau. I witnessed many horrible, terrible things.
But I survived. And in 1945 the SS guards rousted us out of our barracks and marched us out in the frozen night. We marched, we marched, we marched. For six days and nights we marched, I was weak, I was exhausted, and I collapsed on to a snow bank on the side of the road. The guards just left me to die.
I was drifting away. And then I felt someone grab hold of me and pull me out of the snow bank, and I opened my eyes and stared into this face with strange, slanted eyes. I remembered Sugihara had strange, slanted eyes. There were four of them, they were wearing khaki uniforms and all tired and unshaven and dirty and, although they were speaking English, I knew that they were Japanese.
I thought to myself, “Oh…these Japanese soldiers are now here to kill me.” But by then I didn’t care: “Go ahead, kill me, just get it over with!” The man looked at me and said, “No, we are not going to kill you. We are Americans.” “No, no, no, you are Japanese. You are here to kill me!” We went back and forth and, finally, this Japanese man fell down on his knees, weeping. “You are free, boy! We are Japanese Americans. You’re free!” I stared into this Japanese man’s eyes, they were kind and gentle like Sugihara’s. And it was only then that I believed.
His name was Clarence Matsumura, and he was attached to the 522nd battalion, which is a part of the 442nd regimental combat team, the all-Japanese-American unit. They were amongst the first to discover and begin liberating the complex of camps surrounding Dachau.
I found it ironic that Clarence and his kinsmen had volunteered to fight and die for the United States when many of them had families locked up in American relocation centers.
After the war I moved to Israel. I didn’t talk very much about my experiences except to other people who were survivors of the camps. Ever since my liberation I have not been able to cry. Psychiatrists told me that the trauma of the Holocaust had just dried up my tears, that I was now an emotional amputee, and that I would never cry again.
In 1992 I received a phone call from a man by the name of Eric Saul, he was a historian from San Francisco, and he said that he was here in Israel with a group of Japanese American men who were there at the liberation of Dachau. They had come from Hawaii and California to Israel to be honored by the Knesset. Would I meet with them?
I arrived at the hotel, and there’s this group of Japanese men with gray hair in their 70’s. They asked me to read an account that I had written when I had first met the members of the battalion. And when I began reading my account we were joined by another Japanese man with grey hair and glasses, and when I got to the point where these Japanese men were pulling me out of the snow bank. I looked up at the newcomer, and there were tears in his eyes.
I stopped reading, I couldn’t go on. I couldn’t speak. After years of suppressing the insuppressible. This tidal wave of emotion erupted through me, and I began to weep. The little boy that I had hidden away for all those years had come out of hiding and it was he who was weeping. All these old men gathered around me to comfort me,
“Don’t be ashamed, you are among friends now.” It was the voice of the newcomer, “Solly, this is Clarence Matsumura.” I looked at this man, the newcomer, grey hair and glasses, how could it be? I couldn’t tell.
Then he smiled. Ah, nothing could change that smile. We fell into each other’s arms, and the years melted away. I was weak, and he helped me up, just as he had done 47 years ago on the road to [town], just south of a little town called Dachau.
©2011 RaceBridges For Schools. This lesson plan is part of an initiative for educators called RaceBridges For Schools. It is a project that seeks to provide free tools for teachers and students to motivate them to build stronger and more inclusive communities. This guide may be freely used, reproduced and distributed for educational purposes as long as this copyright information is displayed intact. The video and audio excerpts and transcript included in this unit is copyrighted by Alton Chung. Used with permission: www.altonchung.com