About Chiune Sugihara, 杉原 千畝
Chiune Sugihara (杉原 千畝, Sugihara Chiune, 1 January 1900 – 31 July 1986) was a Japanese diplomat who served as Vice Consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania. During World War II, he helped several thousand Jews leave the country by issuing transit visas to Jewish refugees so that they could travel to Japan. Most of the Jews who escaped were refugees from German-occupied Poland or residents of Lithuania. Sugihara wrote travel visas that facilitated the escape of more than 6,000 Jewish refugees to Japanese territory, risking his career and his family's life. In 1985, Israel honored him as Righteous Among the Nations for his actions.
Chiune Sugihara was born January 1, 1900, in Yaotsu, a rural area in Gifu Prefecture of the Chūbu region to a middle-class father, Mitsugoro Sugihara, and Yatsu Sugihara, a samurai-class mother. He was the second son among five boys and one girl.
In 1912, he graduated with top honors from Furuwatari School, and entered Nagoya Daigo Chugaku (now Zuiryo high school), a combined junior and senior high school. His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps as a physician, but Chiune deliberately failed the entrance exam by writing only his name on the exam papers. Instead, he entered Waseda University in 1918 and majored in English literature. In 1919, he passed the Foreign Ministry Scholarship exam. The Japanese Foreign Ministry recruited him and assigned him to Harbin, China, where he also studied the Russian and German languages and later became an expert in Russian affairs.
Manchurian Foreign Office
When Sugihara served in the Manchurian Foreign Office, he took part in the negotiations with the Soviet Union concerning the Northern Manchurian Railroad. He quit his post as Deputy Foreign Minister in Manchuria in protest over Japanese mistreatment of the local Chinese. While in Harbin, he converted to Orthodox Christianity and married a Belarusian woman named Klaudia Apollonova. They divorced in 1935, before he returned to Japan, where he married Yukiko Kikuchi, who became Yukiko Sugihara (1913–2008) (杉原幸子 Sugihara Yukiko) after the marriage; they had four sons (Hiroki, Chiaki, Haruki, Nobuki). Nobuki is their only son still alive. Chiune Sugihara also served in the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as a translator for the Japanese legation in Helsinki, Finland.
In 1939, he became a vice-consul of the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania. His other duty was to report on Soviet and German troop movements.
Sugihara is said to have cooperated with Polish intelligence, as a part of bigger Japanese-Polish cooperative plan. After the Soviet takeover of Lithuania in 1940, many Jewish refugees from Poland (Polish Jews) as well as Lithuanian Jews tried to acquire exit visas. Without the visas, it was dangerous to travel and impossible to find countries willing to issue them. Hundreds of refugees came to the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, trying to get a visa to Japan. The Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk had provided some of them with an official third destination to Curaçao, a Caribbean island and Dutch colony that required no entry visa, or Dutch Guiana (which, upon independence, became Suriname). At the time, the Japanese government required that visas be issued only to those who had gone through appropriate immigration procedures and had enough funds. Most of the refugees did not fulfill these criteria. Sugihara dutifully contacted the Japanese Foreign Ministry three times for instructions. Each time, the Ministry responded that anybody granted a visa should have a visa to a third destination to exit Japan, with no exceptions.
From July 31 to August 28, 1940, aware that applicants were in danger if they stayed behind, Sugihara began to grant visas on his own initiative, after consulting with his family. He ignored the requirements and arranged the Jews with a ten-day visa to transit through Japan, in direct violation of his orders. Given his inferior post and the culture of the Japanese Foreign Service bureaucracy, this was an extraordinary act of disobedience. He spoke to Soviet officials who agreed to let the Jews travel through the country via the Trans-Siberian railway at five times the standard ticket price.
Sugihara continued to hand-write visas, reportedly spending 18–20 hours a day on them, producing a normal month's worth of visas each day, until September 4, when he had to leave his post before the consulate was closed. By that time he had granted thousands of visas to Jews, many whom were heads of household and thus permitted to take their families with them. On the night before their scheduled departure, Sugihara and his wife stayed awake writing out visa approvals. According to witnesses, he was still writing visas while in transit from his hotel and after boarding the train, throwing visas into the crowd of desperate refugees out the train's window even as the train pulled out. In final desperation, blank sheets of paper with only the consulate seal and his signature (that could be later written over into a visa) were hurriedly prepared and flung out from the train. Sugihara himself wondered about official reaction to the thousands of visas he issued. Many years later, he recalled, "No one ever said anything about it. I remember thinking that they probably didn't realize how many I actually issued."
The total number of Jews saved by Sugihara is in dispute, ranging from 6,000 to 10,000; most likely, it was somewhere in the middle; family visas—which allowed several people to travel on one visa—were also issued, which would account for the much higher figure. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has estimated that Chiune Sugihara issued transit visas for about 6,000 Jews and that around 40,000 descendants of the Jewish refugees are alive today because of his actions. Polish intelligence produced some false visas. Sugihara's widow and eldest son estimate that he saved 6,000 Jews from certain death, whereas Levine thinks it was far higher at around 10,000. According to Hillel Levine's 1996 biography of Sugihara, In Search of Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat issued 3,400 transit visas to the Jews. (Source: Booklist review) Levine reports from his research of official Japanese foreign ministry documents entitled "Miscellaneous Documents Regarding Ethnic Issues: Jewish Affairs,' vol.10, 1940 Diplomatic Record Office, Japanese Foreign Ministry, Tokyo", that he discovered one list alone of "2,139 names, largely of Poles--both Jews and non-Jews--who received visas between July 9 and August 31, 1940...It is far from complete; many who received visas from Sugihara, including children, are not on it. By statistical extrapolation, we can estimate that he helped as many as ten thousand escape; those who actually survived are probably no more than half that number." Indeed, some Jews who received Sugihara visas failed to leave Lithuania in time, were later captured by the Germans who invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and perished in the Holocaust.
Levine discovered two documents from a Japanese foreign office file: the first aforementioned document is a February 5, 1941 diplomatic note from Chiune Sugihara to Japan's then Foreign Minister Yōsuke Matsuoka in which Sugihara stated he issued 1,500 out of 2,132 transit visas to Jews and Poles; however, since almost all the names of the 2,132 people were not Lithuanian at all, this would imply that most of the visas were given to Polish Jews instead. Levine then notes that another document from the same foreign office file "indicates an additional 3,448 visas were issued in Kovno for a total of 5,580 visas" which were likely given to Jews desperate to flee Lithuania for safety in Japan or Japanese occupied China. Moreover, there were also "some Jesuits in Vilna who were issuing Sugihara visas with seals that he had left behind and did not destroy, long after the Japanese diplomat had departed" which means that some Jews could have escaped Europe with forged visas issued under Sugihara's name.
Many refugees used their visas to travel across the Soviet Union to Vladivostok and then by boat to Kobe, Japan, where there was a Russian Jewish community. Tadeusz Romer, the Polish ambassador in Tokyo, organised help for them. From August 1940 to November 1941, he had managed to get transit visas in Japan, asylum visas to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Burma, immigration certificates to the British Mandate of Palestine, and immigrant visas to the United States and some Latin American countries for more than two thousand Polish-Lithuanian Jewish refugees, who arrived into Kobe, Japan, and Shanghai Ghetto, China.
The remaining number of Sugihara/Zwartendijk survivors stayed in Japan until they were deported to Japanese-held Shanghai, where there was already a large Jewish community. Others took a more southerly route through Korea directly to Shanghai without passing through Japan. A group of thirty "Jakub Goldberg" arrived one day to Tsuruga but were returned to Russian Nakhodka. Most of the around 20,000 Jews survived the Holocaust in the Shanghai ghetto until the Japanese surrender in 1945.
Despite German pressure for the Japanese government to either hand over or kill the Jewish refugees, the government protected the group. In The Fugu Plan (a book about the 1930s Fugu Plot), Rabbi Marvin Tokayer offered one hypothesis: it was in gratitude for a $196 million loan that a Jewish banker from New York, Jacob Schiff, had given to Japan; the funds helped them to victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. A broader hypothesis, which also motivated the 1930s scheme, involved the benefit of the supposed economic prowess to Jews (partly as some Japanese leaders had read anti-Semitic tracts attributing uncanny wealth and power to Jews), which was desirable to the Japanese empire. Finally, Jewish leaders pointed out that the Nazi ideal excluded "the yellow", and asserted that like the Japanese, the Jews were from Asia too.
Sugihara served as a Consulate General in Prague, Czechoslovakia, from March 1941 to late 1942 in Königsberg, East Prussia and in the legation in Bucharest, Romania from 1942 to 1944. When Soviet troops entered Romania, they imprisoned Sugihara and his family in a POW camp for eighteen months. They were released in 1946 and returned to Japan through the Soviet Union via the Trans-Siberian railroad and Nakhodka port.
In 1947, the Japanese foreign office asked him to resign, nominally due to downsizing. Some sources, including his wife Yukiko Sugihara, have said that the Foreign Ministry told Sugihara he was dismissed because of "that incident" in Lithuania.
In October 1991, the ministry told Sugihara's family that Sugihara's resignation was part of the ministry's shakeup in personnel shortly after the end of the war. The Foreign Ministry issued a position paper on March 24, 2006, that there was no evidence the Ministry imposed disciplinary action on Sugihara. The ministry said that Sugihara was one of many diplomats to resign voluntarily, but that it was "difficult to confirm" the details of his individual resignation. The ministry praised Sugihara's conduct in the report, calling it a "courageous and humanitarian decision."
Sugihara settled in Fujisawa in Kanagawa prefecture. To support his family he took a series of menial jobs, at one point selling light bulbs door to door. He suffered a personal tragedy in 1947 when his youngest son died at the age of seven. He later began to work for an export company as General Manager of U.S. Military Post Exchange. Utilizing his command of the Russian language, Sugihara went on to work and live a low-key existence in the Soviet Union for sixteen years, while his family stayed in Japan.
In 1968, Jehoshua Nishri, an economic attache to the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo and one of the Sugihara beneficiaries, finally located and contacted him. Nishri had been a Polish teen in the 1940s. The next year Sugihara visited Israel and was greeted by the Israeli government. Sugihara beneficiaries began to lobby for inclusion in the Yad Vashem memorial.
In 1985, Chiune Sugihara was granted the honor of the Righteous Among the Nations (Hebrew: חסידי אומות העולם , translit. Khasidei Umot ha-Olam) by the government of Israel. Sugihara was too ill to travel to Israel, so his wife and son accepted the honor on his behalf. Sugihara and his descendants were given perpetual Israeli citizenship.
That same year, 45 years after the Soviet invasion of Lithuania, he was asked his reasons for issuing visas to the Jews. Sugihara explained that the refugees were human beings, and that they simply needed help. As Sugihara stated in a conversation with a visitor to his home near Tokyo Bay that year: “ You want to know about my motivation, don't you? Well. It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. He just cannot help but sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes, Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes. Also, I felt at that time, that the Japanese government did not have any uniform opinion in Tokyo. Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent.
People in Tokyo were not united. I felt it silly to deal with them. So, I made up my mind not to wait for their reply. I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong in saving many people's lives....The spirit of humanity, philanthropy...neighborly friendship...with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation---and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage.” When asked why he risked his career to save other people, he quoted an old samurai saying: "Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him for refuge."
Sugihara died the following year, on July 31, 1986. In spite of the publicity given him in Israel and other nations, he remained virtually unknown in his home country. Only when a large Jewish delegation from around the world, including the Israeli ambassador to Japan, showed up at his funeral did his neighbors find out what he had done.
Legacy and honors
Chiune Sugihara memorial in Vilnius, Lithuania. Chiune Sugihara memorial in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo.
Sugihara Street in Kaunas and Vilnius, Lithuania, and the asteroid 25893 Sugihara are named after him. The Chiune Sugihara Memorial in the town of Yaotsu (his birthplace) was built by the people of the town in his honor. The Sugihara house-museum in Kaunas, Lithuania. The conservative synagogue Temple Emeth, in Chestnut Hill (Newton), Massachusetts, has built a "Sugihara Memorial Garden" and holds an Annual Sugihara Memorial Concert.
When Sugihara's widow Yukiko traveled to Jerusalem in 1998, she was met by tearful survivors who showed her the yellowing visas that her husband had signed. A park in Jerusalem is named for him. The Japanese government honored him on the centennial of his birth in 2000.
A memorial to Sugihara was built in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo in 2002, and dedicated with consuls from Japan, Israel and Lithuania, Los Angeles city officials and Sugihara's son, Chiaki Sugihara, in attendance. The memorial, entitled "Chiune Sugihara Memorial, Hero of the Holocaust" depicts a life-size Sugihara seated on a bench, holding a visa in his hand and is accompanied by a quote from the Talmud: "He who saves one life, saves the entire world."
Sugihara is also known as Sempo Sugiwara (杉原 千畝, Sugiwara Senpo), a pseudonym that he adopted when he worked in the Soviet Union from 1960 to 1975 to prevent the Soviets from identifying him as the Japanese diplomat who in 1932 outsmarted them and obtained a very good deal for Japan when it purchased the Northern Manchurian Railroad. Sempo is not a distinct name but another way of reading the Chinese characters 千畝 for Chiune. Similarly, sugiwara is an alternative pronunciation of 杉原, his family name. Sempo was not his middle name, as Japanese names do not have middle names.
He also used the false name Sergi Pavelovitch.
* A Japanese TV station in Japan made a documentary film about Chiune Sugihara. This film was shot in Kaunas, at the place of the former embassy of Japan. * Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness from PBS shares details of Sugihara and his family and the fascinating relationship between the Jews and the Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s. The website includes a timeline of Sugihara's life, video previews, exclusive interviews, and lesson plans for teachers. * On October 11, 2005, Yomiuri TV (Osaka) aired a two-hour-long drama entitled Visas for Life about Sugihara, based on his wife's book. The web page of the drama is very comprehensive, but only available in Japanese. It aired on Hawaii station KIKU-TV titled as 6,000 Visas for Life as part of special New Year's programming on January 13, 2007. * Chris Tashima and Chris Donahue made a film about Sugihara in 1997, Visas and Virtue, which won the Academy Award for Live Action Short Film. * Japan's largest film company, Nippon Animation, is producing an animated film on Chiune Sugihara. The film was specially animated for television stations in Japan and around the world. The plan is to market the film in 2008, marking sixty years since diplomatic relations were established between Israel and Japan. The Japanese company asked Israel's ambassador to Japan, Eli Cohen, to help in making the film.
Notables helped by Sugihara
* Leaders and students of the Mir Yeshiva, Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim (formally of Lubavitch/Lyubavichi, Russia) relocated to Otwock, Poland and elsewhere.
* Zerach Warhaftig, signatry of the Declaration of Independence of Israel, and a cabinet minister, Government of Israel * Robert Lewin * Leo Melamed * John G. Stoessinger, professor of diplomacy at the University of San Diego * George Zames, control theorist * Yaakov Banai
Chiune Sugihara, 杉原 千畝's Timeline
January 1, 1900
Yaotsu, Gifu Prefecture, Japan
Haerbin, Heilongjiang, China
Koenigsberg, Czech Republic
July 31, 1986
Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan