Saturday, November 15, 2014

One More Border: The True Story of One Family's Escape From War-Torn Europe by William Kaplan

One More Border tells the story of a Jewish family who undertake a journey across three-quarters of the world to escape to freedom and safety.

Igor and Nomi Kaplan had to flee Memel which was part of East Prussia with their parents, Bernard and Nadja in the spring of 1939.  They had to leave because the Nazi's had taken over this area and being Jewish meant their lives were in danger. They left everything behind, their favourite books and toys and their wonderful turreted home. The Kaplans first traveled to Kaunas, the capital of Lithuania where Igor and Nomi attended school. However, things began to worsen when Germany invaded Poland and Lithuania was occupied by Russian troops who also did not like Jews. The Kaplans decided to undertake the long journey through Lithuania and across Russia to Japan where they would sail for Canada to live with their grandparents.

The Kaplans required visas that would allow them to leave Lithuania to travel through Russian and then to leave Russia and enter Japan. The Japanese consul, Sugihara had been giving exit visas to Jews so they could leave Russia and enter Japan. However, when the Kaplans arrived at the Japanese consulate they found many people waiting, but in a stroke of luck, they also unexpectedly met with Sugihara who was leaving with his family in their car. Sugihara stamped the Kaplan's visa for Nomi, Igor and Bernard. However, Nadja was Russian which meant that she required a separate visa to leave Lithuania. Nadja was unsuccessful in her attempts to get a visa until the last moment when the Kaplan family was on the train!

This was only the beginning of a complicated journey that took them through the desolate Siberian countryside and onto Kobe, Japan. Unlike many Jewish refugees who tried to escape through Europe, the Kaplan's traveled through Europe's back door, across Asia to get to Canada. William Kaplan, whose father is Igor Kaplan tells in detail his father's journey to eventual freedom and safety in Canada. It's a fascinating story of a family whose escape from Hitler's "final solution" was a combination of luck and good timing. They likely owe their lives to Mr. Sugihara, who was eventually named a Righteous Gentile in 1985. Despite being allies of Germany in the Second World War, Japan did not share the Nazi's anti-Jewish views.  Until the middle of 1941, the Japanese were willing to accept refugees on their way to America, Australia and Canada. According to Kaplan, Chiune "Sugihara wrote out as many as three hundred visas a day." Based on his Samurai upbringing, Sugihara believed that he should help people in need. If not for their encounter with Sugihara outside the consulate, the Kaplan's may not have been able to leave Lithuania. Unlike many Jews who were refused entry to Canada and other countries, despite the escalating violence against Jews in Germany it's occupied countries, the Kaplans had relatives in Canada which facilitated their immigration.

One More Border is part picture book, with lovely illustrations by artist Stephen Taylor and part history book with plenty of photographs of the various cities and countries the Kaplan's passed through in 1940, their home and their visas. One More Border contains maps showing the extent of the Kaplan's journey three-quarters of the way around the world. The Epilogue tells what happened to the Kaplans once they arrived in Canada.

Overall this is an well written book that will appeal visually to young readers and provides lots of information to older readers about this historical period.

Book Details:
One More Border: the true story of one family's escape from war-torn Europe by William Kaplan
Toronto: Groundwood Books    1998
61 pp.

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