Holocaust remembrance around the world
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Holocaust remembrance around the world

A great miracle happened there

A chance meeting with Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, catapulted the young Reverend Makoto Otsuka into an unusual career path.

As he toured Israel as a curious 20 year old, 50 years ago, he realized that “the Holocaust was one of the three largest catastrophes of the 20th century, along with the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” He blames “an education shortage” for causing the build-up of anti-Semitism throughout Europe for 2000 years. He has dedicated his life to building a Holocaust Center in Japan, a country not known to have a Jewish population and without a formal Holocaust curriculum in their schools.

We were lucky enough to chat with Reverend Otsuka recently, not in Japanese or in English but in fluent and perfect Hebrew.

The Holocaust Education Center in Fukuyama, Japan, is infused with Japanese culture. First, Reverend Otsuka greets every visitor, young and old, with a greeting, making eye contact, as if he were welcoming them to his own home. “In this way, I am connecting to them and making it personal,” he said.

After sending some 200 letters to Holocaust museums around the world, he was able to secure several original artifacts to present in the Center. Its main attraction is the display of a child’s shoe. A single shoe. Reverend Otsuka explains, “You may be aware of other Japanese cultural traditions, such as the tea ceremony or flower arranging, where simplicity provides for opportunities of great meaning and reflection.” The objects in his museum are the same. He points to the shoe and asks children, “Where has its spirit gone? And why?”

He finds it especially tragic that 1.5 million children were killed in the Holocaust. He has recreated Anne Frank’s room in the Center so visitors can understand what Anne and her sister Margo endured while they were in hiding. The museum contains a giant menorah filled with 1.5 million multicolored beads. “They are colorful, to represent all of the dreams the children had for their future,” Reverend Otsuka says.

In the United States, Holocaust education usually starts in middle or high school. In Japan, Reverend Otsuka will bring children as young as 5 through the museum. He starts his tours with puppets. With his hands raised high and far apart, he asks the children, “How can they make friends?” The children respond, “Move your hands closer and face each other.” Show respect.

Living in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Reverend Otsuka has one simple message to the world. Please be a person to create shalom.

For more information about the Holocaust Remembrance Around the World monthly video series at the Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center at Yeshiva University, go to our website, www.yu.edu/fish-center/events. Our guests take action to bring Holocaust memory into our current world. Please watch our next live episode at noon on Sunday, October 31, when we travel to Australia to meet with Suzanne Hampel of the Jewish Holocaust Center in Melbourne.

Lois Roman of Haworth is working toward a masters degree in holocaust and genocide studies at the Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center at Yeshiva University and is the producer of Holocaust Remembrance Around the World, a monthly video interview series. Learn more at www.yu.edu/fish-center/events

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