A little light in dark times

The lucky ones who were handed a visa for Curacao went on a major trip through the width of Russia, to end up on a ship in Vladivostok. After a few days of sailing, they entered the small Japanese port of Tsuruga. There they were welcomed by representatives of the Jewish community of Kobe, which escorted them to Kobe to give them a new home away from home. Thanks to the little lights of two men, they escaped the dark times of WW-II to enter in the light of the Japanese culture. This poem tries to put into words what these people must have felt upon arrival. It is one of the texts used in our exhibition in the Kanna Art Festival.

fleeing from terrorlight
fear in their veins
travelling into the unknown
escaping the horrors
by some simple empathy
insecure future
anxiety upon arrival
to find respect
in a simple bow
acknowledging them
as individuals
who’s lives do matter

Onishi, an ordinary town in the rural parts of Japan, just above Tokyo. Slowly but surely its population is decreasing as there is not a lot of future for the youngsters, leaving the old Japanese inhabitants behind. It is amazingly beautiful here; check out the image which is the view out of the artist residence to the towns ‘pyramid’ mountain.

Still it is a town decreasing in size. something that happens everywhere in Japan. In Onishi they figured that it would be promotionally very wise to start an Artist in Residence program for artists from abroad. It would give empty buildings a new meaning as well as a great impulse to the daily life in town. So Shiro Oni Studio was very much welcomed to start their program.

One of the cumulations of this program is the Kanna Fall Art Festival in the second half of September in the old sake-brewery, where the residents are mingled with local artists in a 10 days art festival. It means that we need to have build our exhibition by the 15th of September… That’s why we will go on our trip to Kobe coming Sunday to see what the Jews of Kaunas might have experienced when they arrived in late summer 1940. Almost the same time we are visiting, albeit 77 years later. We will keep you posted!

Two pillars are still in front of the house; sturdy reminders of the gates behind which thousands looked for an opportunity to escape the horrors of Kaunas in mid 1940. Two pillars on which numerous hands rested, waving to the Japanse consul to write the visa that would take them into safety.

Try to imagine the pressure upon the Japanese and Dutch consul. Japan had issued strict warnings against issuing visa and both consuls lived in Kaunas with their families. Each for themselves decided it was the right thing to do and the rest is history. It is impressive to realise the risks these two man took. Irrespective of their own safety. Of the safety of their family. As Yikuko Siguhara (the wife of Chiune) explained; “human life is the most precious thing”.


It also makes you wonder who today are the brave souls, who risk their lives for the safety of the refugees. Angela Merkel perhaps with her famous line: “Wir schaffen das”. Was her life in danger when she spoke these words? Actually, none come to mind as the risks faced in giving shelter to the refugees today are no comparison to the risks faced by the two consuls and their families in mid 1940. Perhaps that is the conclusion of this moment in time; we don’t face the same risks and therefore don’t act with the same righteousness as the two consuls in Kaunas. And that is saddening inhuman to realise… All the more inspiration to bring empathy back in our lives.



Two in itself unimpressive marble stones mark the corners of the area. Hardly noticed when you don’t know where to look. Two in memoriam’s for what was in world war II the Jewish getto of Kaunas. Now it is an ordinary neighbourhood of Kaunas where rich and poor live side by side. Buildings in decay next to freshly build little castles indicating the wealth of its inhabitants. It symbolises what makes us humans unique, in all of its darkness and all of its brightness.

It is also a stark reminder that really bad things can happen if words are framed ‘against’ other humans. The same words that should be part of  ‘togetherness’; to seek to understand our differences. Words when spoken with empathy, simply bring back a smile as first step in crossing the divide. Even today, to all those hurried people, minding their own business and seeking a less cold (in all aspects) place to live, it simply works.


An unused swing. In a small park, right up the steep hill overlooking the city centre of Kaunas. It felt this morning a silent witness for the men and women who 76 years ago desperately tried to find a way out. Imagine that just a stamp and a signature is the only thing that separates you from life or death….

Such was the situation in early summer 1940. Barely a 2 minute walk away from this park, is the house (currently museum) where Chiune Sugihara issued 2.345 visa for the Jews of Kaunas. Working in tandem with Jan Zwartendijk, and often urging him to slow down, he wrote for hours upon hours the visa that would grant the Jews a transit to Curacao; de facto a change to live.

silent swing