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Sugihara Chiune

Updated on February 21, 2013

Sugihara Chiune - A humble hero of humanity

Chiune Sugihara, a humble Japanese man whose remarkable actions made him a humanitarian hero. To most people his name and existence is rather unknown, so here is a tribute to one of the greatest men of our time, Chiune Sugihara, whose brave actions in the beginning of world war II saved more than 6000 Jews. Today more than 40000 people owe their lives to to him and his family.

Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat who was sent to Lithuania in March 1939 as Consul General to open a consulate service in the temporary capital of Kaunas. By 1940 most of Europe had been invaded by the Nazis, and in July 1940 Sugihara and his family found themselves in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, as thousands of Jews lined up in front of the consulate hoping to receive transit visas allowing them to escape. Sugihara had strict orders not to proceed, but armed with an amazing heart and courage he decided to go against authority and do the unthinkable.

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Sugihara and Kaunas

Kaunas was the temporary capital of Lithuania, as it was strategically located between Germany and the Soviet Union. Before the war Kaunas had a population of 120000 people and about 25% being of Jewish descend. Sugihara Chiune had barely settled in before Nazis invaded Poland and a large number of refugees fled to Lithuania.

The Polish Jews brought horrible news of Nazi Holocaust and atrocities against the Jewish population, but for most Lithuanian Jews it was hard to believe and they continued their lives as normal. However, things changed for the worst on June 15, 1940 when Lithuania was invaded by the Soviets, and it was now too late for the Lithuanian Jews to leave. Only one option was left: If certain travel documents were processed they were able to emigrate out Lithuania via the Soviet Union.

So there was only one person to turn to, Sugihara Chiune, whose actions would determine the future of thousands of people. Time was running out, the Soviet authorities had requested all foreign embassies to leave, but Sugihara against all odds requested a 20 day extension and stayed in Kaunas.

Getting to the Caribbean

The situation got worse and worse by the day and Chiune Sugihara and the Dutch consul where now the only two foreign consuls left in Kaunas. Some of the refuges had come up with a plan: the two Carribean colonial islands Curacao and Suriname didn't require any entry visas, so if they could only obtain a transit visa from the Japanese, as they would be going via Japan, their escape was all set.

The Dutch consul had already got permission to stamp their passport and the Soviet consul had agreed to let them pass via the Soviet union on one condition - the Japanese transit visas must have been obtained.

Visas for Life

Despite multiple orders from Japan not to issue the visas, Sugihara decided to go ahead. For 29 days from July 31- Aug 28, 1940 Sugihara with the help of his wife Yukiko issued more than 300 visas a day. Without hardly any sleep they continued until they were forced to close down the colsulate and leave Lithuania, and Sugihara even wrote visas from the train window as the train was departed, and gave the stamp to one of the refugees. They risked their lives in this courageous action of humanity.

The refuges made their way to Japan and survived under the protection of the Japanese government. All due to two humble people with tremendous love and compassion, Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara.

Sugihara Documentary & Movie

Sugihara honored in Israel

In 1945 Sugihara was dismissed by the Japanese government and had to start his life all over. Sugihara never mentioned anything about his actions, and it was not until 1969 that one of the Sugihara survivors found the man whom he owed his life. Soon after many people came forward and testimonies were held in Israel paying tribute to Sugihara.

In 1985 he received Israel's highest honor for his sacrifice of saving the Jews. He was too ill to receive the honor him self but his wife and son traveled to Israel to receive it on his behalf.

Sugihara passed away on July 3, 1986 aged 86, and his wife Yukiko recently died on October 8, 2008 aged 94.

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    • ForestBear LM profile image
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      ForestBear LM 5 years ago

      @TeacherSerenia: thank you Serenia, I'm glad to share the story.

    • TeacherSerenia profile image

      TeacherSerenia 5 years ago

      WOW - I have never heard this story before. Wonderful tribute lens to an unknown humanitarian. Thank you.