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Happy Birthday, Chiune Sugihara, the “Japanese Schindler”

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.findingdulcinea.com/features/profiles/s/chiune-sugihara.html Happy Birthday, Chiune Sugihara, the “Japanese Schindler” January 01, 2009 by Liz
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2009
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      Happy Birthday, Chiune Sugihara, the “Japanese Schindler”
      January 01, 2009
      by Liz Colville

      Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese consul during
      World War II who helped save the lives of
      thousands of Polish Jewish refugees by signing
      visas that allowed them to flee the Nazis’ grasp.

      Early Days
      Chiune Sugihara, also known as Sempo Sugihara,
      was born in Yaotsu in the Gifu Prefecture of
      Japan’s main island of Honshu, on January 1,
      1900, to a middle-class samurai family. His
      father, who instilled the stringent samurai code
      of loyalty and obedience in his son, wanted him
      to become a doctor. But Sugihara sought an
      artistic life that would allow him to see the world.

      Sugihara was educated at Waseda University,
      paying his way by working as a tutor and
      longshoreman. After graduating, he responded to
      an ad in a newspaper by the Foreign Service and
      attended Harbin Gakuin, a school in China where
      he learned Russian and became an expert on the
      Soviet Union. He was appointed foreign ministry
      director of Manchukuo, a Japanese puppet state in
      Manchuria, and according to the United States
      Holocaust Memorial Museum encyclopedia,
      “negotiated the purchase of the North Manchurian
      railroad from the Soviet Union in 1932.”

      Notable Accomplishments

      In 1939, Sugihara, now fluent in Russian and a
      convert to the Eastern Orthodox church, was sent
      to Kaunas, or Kovno, the temporary capital of
      Lithuania, to open a consulate. The capital was
      “strategically situated between Germany and the
      Soviet Union.” Lithuania was allied with Germany
      at the time, and the city of Kaunas was home to
      some 30,000 Jews—a quarter of the population.
      After the Nazis invaded Poland, Polish Jews began
      fleeing to Lithuania. Although Lithuanian Jews
      were not allowed to leave, Polish Jews could
      escape Nazi persecution if granted visas out of Lithuania.

      On July 27, 1940, hundreds came to the Japanese
      embassy in Kaunas, pleading for Japanese transit
      visas. Sugihara wired the Japanese government
      three times, asking them to grant the visas. The
      government denied the request twice and did not
      respond to the third request. Sugihara and his
      wife, Yukiko then took matters into their own
      hands, signing visas for 30 days straight. They
      issued more than 2,000 visas, and because many of
      the survivors went on to have children,
      approximately 40,000 people owe their lives to the Sugiharas.

      The Rest of the Story

      Sugihara, who had once before shown similar
      compassion by aiding victims of a flood in
      Harbin, China, was not recognized for his efforts
      for many years. He was transferred to Prague soon
      after the visa event, and then to Romania, where
      the Soviets arrested him in 1944. Released three
      years later, he returned to Japan, and was fired
      from the Foreign Ministry because of “that
      incident in Lithuania,” his superiors told him.

      Sugihara worked for a while as an interpreter,
      and was then employed as manager for an export
      company that conducted business with Moscow.

      He was a humble person and didn’t tell anyone
      about his role in saving Jews from the Holocaust.
      But gradually those he saved spread the message
      about his actions and communicated it to Yad
      Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Israel. In
      1985, Sugihara became the first Japanese
      recipient of Israel’s Yad Vashem Prize, given to
      those who are “Righteous Among the Nations,”
      non-Jews who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

      Sugihara died at the age of 86 on July 31, 1986.
      In 2000, the Japanese Foreign Ministry finally
      recognized Sugihara’s accomplishments in a formal
      ceremony attended by his widow; they installed a
      copper plaque in honor of the centennial of
      Sugihara’s birth, and created three scholarships
      and an exhibit in his honor. Yukiko Sugihara died in October 2008.

      A documentary clip on YouTube
      explores how Sugihara came to be a Holocaust hero
      and Sugihara’s simple reason for his actions:
      “They were human beings and they needed help. I’m
      glad I found the strength to make the decision to give it to them.”
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