| TOKYO, June 30
TOKYO, June 30 In 1940, a small Jewish boy
fleeing the Nazis put in to a remote Japanese port, saved by a
Japanese consul who issued exit visas from Lithuania against his
government's orders, rescuing thousands of desperate European
Jews from certain death.
Leo Melamed arrived in Japan with little more than the
clothes on his back but went on to the United States, becoming a
lawyer and head of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), where
he introduced the idea of financial futures trading.
On Monday, Melamed, 82, was back in Japan to honour Chiune
Sugihara, who over a period of roughly a month issued visas that
allowed 6,000 Jews to escape war-torn Lithuania and the
advancing Nazis - saving several times as many people as Oskar
Schindler, made famous in the film "Schindler's List."
"It was truly death's door," Melamed told Reuters. "What was
coming was the fire that was going to annihilate all of us, and
he made the decision he did." Within a year, almost all the Jews
in Lithuania had been killed.
Sugihara was later asked to resign by Japan's Foreign
Ministry for defying the rules of a government then allied with
Germany and that a year later was at war with the United States.
He died in obscurity in 1986.
"He did it because, as he said to his family, 'if I follow
the dictates of my government, I will violate the dictates of my
God,'" Melamed said.
FLIGHT AND DANGER
Trouble began for Melamed's family in Bialystok, Poland,
when the Nazis invaded in 1939. They fled into neighbouring
Lithuania and lived there until invasion by the Soviet Union
posed new dangers. The only hope was a transit visa to Japan.
"I was hardly ever in school in those days," Melamed said.
"I was always listening to grown-ups tell their stories or their
fears and their hopes."
Sugihara began issuing the visas in late July 1940, writing
them day and night for roughly a month, until he closed the
consulate and left. Even then, he was writing visas and handing
them out the train window. As his train pulled out he bowed and
apologised to those who still remained on the platform.
Melamed and his family made a gruelling trip across Russia
on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok, then crossed the
wintry Sea of Japan by boat to the western port of Tsuruga.
"My mother looked at the mountains surrounding Tsuruga, with
some snow at the peaks, and people down below shovelling snow,
with straw hats. They still all wore kimonos at that time,"
Melamed said. "And she looked at me and she said, 'This is the
first time in two years I will let go of your hand.'"
"There's a lot of stories that go around that the risks that
I took built my risk-taking mentality, and maybe it's true,"
said Melamed, who left Japan in April 1941 for Chicago.
"Certainly I was a risk-taker not just in trading but in
leading the CME group into finance. When I took over in 1969 as
chairman we were trading in butter, eggs, pork bellies and
eventually cattle and hogs."
Wanting to diversify into something less vulnerable to
weather, Melamed went to economist Milton Friedman to discuss
his idea of trading in financial futures, prefacing their talk
with "Please, don't laugh."
The market he launched in 1972 has gone through several
incarnations and grown vast, although derivatives were widely
reviled for their role in the recent recession.
Melamed said that reputation is undeserved.
"In futures, nothing went wrong. We didn't default, there
was no failure, and we were the only industry in 2008 that could
say that," he said.
"Derivatives aren't the problem, it's how you use them, who
uses them ... The instrument is just an instrument of finance."
During his week in Japan, Melamed will meet with Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe and visit Tsuruga to honour Sugihara.
"He's the epitome of the issue of 'can one man do anything
himself?' The answer is yes," Melamed said.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Michael