Digging for Survivors of the Train Ride

My decision to learn about Dad’s journey on the Trans-Siberian railway in 1941 by trying to find LIVING individuals was a daunting task given that this event occurred over seventy years ago. However, knowing my father’s determination and persistence in trying to expatriate his family from the Soviet Union during World War II, made me realize that anything is possible.

Since I was successful in finding the book which ultimately led me to the National Archives, I began my search  the same way-with my old friend Google. By simply typing “Trans Siberian 1940s” into that search engine, I was led to a page on the Holocaust Museum website, “Polish Jews in Lithuania: Escape to Japan” http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005588. This article speaks of 2200 Jewish refugees whose route to Japan was via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

This was a start.  To the right of the article were links to interviews with two individuals, Ruth Berkowicz Segal and Leo Melamed. Could either of these individuals still be alive?

Another Google search revealed that Mrs. Segal had passed away in 2009, but Mr. Melamed, it turns out, is still living and is just eighty-one years old.  I did some quick arithmetic and realized that he was only about eight at the time of his trip.  Could he possibly recall the events, and would I be able to contact him?

Another Google search on Mr. Melamed resulted in many hits since he is quite an accomplished man in the financial world. He is currently (Yes, CURRENTLY!) chairman emeritus of the CME Group (Chicago Mercantile Exchange) – the founder of financial futures. Would such an important man speak with me?  http://www.melamedassoc.com/mandaprofLeoMelamedbio.htm.

Recalling how Dad had no hesitation in contacting the Secretary of State, I decided to give it a shot.  I located his company and sent his secretary a letter simply asking if his book, “Back to the Futures”, would provide any information on his trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway.  Four days later I received an email from Mr. Melamed with a telephone number to set up a conversation.  I learned that it never hurts to ask!

He spoke with me for almost an hour, relaying his memories of leaving Poland in December 1939 and explaining how his family was helped by Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, in obtaining their Japanese transit visas.  Despite being only eight years old at the time, his recollections of the experience were quite vivid because it was such a life-altering event.

Thank you, Mr. Melamed, for enabling me to understand what my father must have experienced.

He was not the only person I was able to communicate with regarding the experience on the train.  The other, a man named Jerry, took a lot more research and digging to locate. The story of how I found Jerry will be the subject of tomorrow’s blog.

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About kjw616

I am a genealogy detective. I have already written one book about my Irish family's journey from 19th century Ireland to the United States- a family history sprinkled with personal anecdotes. My second book was intended to be a similar story about my Russian ancestors. Instead, it turned into a tale of just my father's immediate family. It is the tale of what happens when 6 children from New Jersey are moved to the Soviet Union by their Russian-born parents during the Great Depression. It details who lives, who dies, and who is able to return to NJ during a time when leaving the USSR was not an easy endeavor, particularly during World War II and the Cold War. It is my hope that those interested in history during this time period will find this story fascinating as well as those fellow amateur family historians who will learn some of the tools such as ancestry.com, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
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5 Responses to Digging for Survivors of the Train Ride

  1. NikiMarie says:

    How exciting to find someone who can give a first-hand account! It truly never hurts to ask, does it?

  2. Su Leslie says:

    Wow! I am so enjoying your story; it is fascinating, moving and beautifully written. I feel like Dicken’s readers must have waiting for the “next installment!” Thanks.

  3. I just found this online, and wanted to make a correction (not that it’s important to your story). Ruth Berkowicz Segal was my mother, and she died in 2009, not 2008. I am sorry you didn’t find her in time to speak to her. Both she and my father (who died in 1982) obtained exit visas from Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who issued these visas against the orders of his country, saving about 2000 Jews by doing so.

    • kjw616 says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and to respond. (I will make the correction.) It is such a fascinating and sad story. So many people don’t always like to share painful stories like that. I am glad your mom did. People need to know.

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