"H adras panim" said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of his first impression of Yukiko Sugihara.
"Some people have a certain glow of the spirit, which that term describes, and she has that in a very, very special way" he said. Sugihara worked with her late husband, the Japanese consul in Kovno, Lithuania, during World War II. Against the policy of his government, Chiune Sugihara provided exit visas that saved the lives of thousands of Jews.
Yukiko Sugihara traveled from Japan to participate in the candle-lighting ceremony at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's National Tribute Dinner held at the Century Plaza Hotel on Sunday night.
"I will go anywhere to tell people how cruel wars are and how much sorrow they bring and how we must always think about protecting the peace of the world," said Sugihara, a beautiful octogenarian dressed in a traditional kimono.
In a moving ceremony commemorating the liberation of the concentration camps 50 years ago, she joined other heroes of the Shoah, Rabbi Leslie Hardman from England and Dr. William Perl from Washington, D.C. Also participating were Holocaust survivors and their relatives, Paul and Mila Page, Ellen Geller, Magda Bass, Sharon Baharouzi, Johanna Cooper and Paul Weinberg. They honored the memories of Oskar Schindler, Roza Robota and Raoul Wallenberg.
Rabbi Hardman, while serving as a chaplain in the British army, was among the liberators of Bergen-Belsen. Film clips shown during the dinner included his words, broadcast when he conducted the first funeral at the concentration camp: "If all the sky was paper, and all the trees in the world were turned into pens, and all the waters in the oceans were ink, we would still have insufficient material on which and with which to describe all the horrors and sufferings these people underwent at the hands of those foul, bestial and inhuman beings called the SS."
Now 81, Hardman stressed the continuous need for the tragedy to be told and retold. Although he admired Steven Spielberg's movie "Schindler's List," clips of which were shown during the ceremony, he insisted, "More must always be done to tell every story and to expose in complete detail the agonies, humiliations, degradations, total horror, of what these people went through day by day."
Perl's book "Operation Action" records the rescue operation he organized, which enabled more than 40,000 European Jews to reach Palestine. " Homo hominis lupus-- one human to another is like a wolf--is how the Romans described prejudice," Perl said.
Following the kosher dinner of salad, chicken and baked Alaska, at which more than $2 million was raised, the Humanitarian Award was presented by Spielberg to Sid Sheinberg, president of MCA Inc., and his wife, Lorraine, who both spoke eloquently, as had the keynote speaker--Texas' Ann Richards, not looking or sounding at all like a defeated governor in her bright peacock-blue suit.
Facing the prosperous black-tie crowd--which included such Hollywood faces as Lew and Edie Wasserman, Ed Asner, Angela Lansbury, Jack Valenti, Pat and Walter Mirsch and Genevieve and Ivan Reitman--Lorraine Sheinberg took note of the dinner being on the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday by referring to Dr. King's identification with those "left out of the sunlight of opportunity."
"We here are in a much safer place, and from this safe place we must reach out to those visibly outside the system," she said, citing the importance of rejecting "an artificial bell curve" and vigilance against economic apartheid.
"Time to run for public office, Lorraine," her husband remarked as he took over the podium to stress that "remembrance is not enough" and "fighting to protect human rights is the highest tribute we can pay to the victims of the Holocaust."
As Yukiko Sugihara left to return to her hotel room, the guests--who had risen to honor her as she lit a candle in her husband's memory--continued to applaud. In defiance of the Beverly Hills fire marshals' restrictive edicts, camera crews and photographers surrounded her, determined to capture close up that hadras panim .