S.F. community leader saved by Japanese Schindler dies, 88

Jerry Milrod, a familiar face in countless local Jewish organizations, died Aug. 16 at age 88.

He died of heart failure at his San Francisco home. "He died in my arms," said Lydia Milrod, his wife of 53 years.

Milrod, a retired gift shop owner, was a longtime member and treasurer of San Francisco's Congregation Chevra Thilim, a regional board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Anti-Defamation League and Jewish National Fund, and a former president of B'nai B'rith Lodge 21.

"He was very involved with anything Jewish," his wife said. "It meant everything to him. He read any Jewish paper you could lay your hands on."

Milrod was among those saved by Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese consul general to Lithuania during World War II who helped Jews escape by writing visas to Japan. Sugihara became known as the "Japanese Schindler."

In 1994 Milrod traveled to Japan to honor Sugihara on a trip sponsored by the Holocaust Oral History Project and the local Military Intelligence Service. Milrod was among those in the forefront of ensuring Sugihara's story was told. Sugihara died in 1986 in virtual obscurity.

"There's a time to speak up and a time to be quiet," Milrod said in 1994. "When I start talking about that time, it reminds me of more and more stories. You spend your time both trying to remember and trying to forget."

A quiet, soft-spoken man, according to those who knew him, Milrod did not hesitate to offer unwavering opinions when he saw fit.

"He was very strong in his ideas," his wife said. "If there was something he wanted to get through, he spoke up. He could be very strong-minded."

Born in Warsaw, Milrod was living in Lodz when the war broke out. He fled to Lithuania, where he was aided by Sugihara, a man he later called "an angel." After riding a crowded boat to safety in Japan, he settled in Shanghai, where he met his wife, who had fled from Berlin.

They immigrated to the United States in 1947. The couple owned the variety store Puff and Stuff on San Francisco's California Street for almost a decade before selling it in 1993.

In the local Jewish community, Milrod became known as a "consistent conscience who made sure one didn't forget the important issues," said Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the JCRC.

Kahn said he will remember Milrod for his tenacious commitment to Israel, "particularly to setting the record straight when he believed there was biased reporting of the facts."

"I and others on our board have the image of Jerry raising his hand whenever we had a speaker on the Middle East and finding a way to remind people about Israel's vulnerability," Kahn said. "It was a matter of passionate commitment to making sure Israel was supported fully."

Earlier this year, B'nai B'rith held a dinner in Milrod's honor. Some 150 people attended.

Among them was his B'nai B'rith colleague Emil Knopf.

"He was a leader by example," Knopf said. "He would just roll up the sleeves and do it. And he was a good friend. You could always count on him to help with whatever he was asked to do."

A service was held at Sinai Memorial Chapel in San Francisco.

In addition to his wife, Milrod is survived by children Sonia (and Michael) Kohn of Cincinnati and Abbie A. Milrod and Arthur (and Julia) Milrod of San Francisco. Grandchildren are Elisia, Andy and Allison Cohen. Milrod is also survived by a brother, Sol Milrad of Los Angeles.

The family asks that donations be sent to Congregation Chevra Thilim, 751 25th Ave., S.F., CA 94121.