|Native name||杉原 千畝|
1 January 1900|
Kozuchi Town (now Mino, Gifu Prefecture), Japan
31 July 1986 (aged 86)|
Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
|Other names||"Sempo", Pavlo Sergeivich Sugihara|
|Occupation||Vice Consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania|
|Known for||Rescue of 5,558 Jews during the Holocaust|
Klaudia Semionovna Apollonova
(m. 1919; div. 1935)
Yukiko Kikuchi (m. 1936)
Order of the Sacred Treasure, 5th Class (1944)|
Righteous Among the Nations (1939)
Chiune Sugihara, also called Sempo Sugihara (杉原 千畝 Sugihara Chiune, 1 January 1900 – 31 July 1986) was a Japanese government official who served as vice consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania. During the Second World War, Sugihara helped some six thousand Jews flee Europe by issuing transit visas to them so that they could travel through Japanese territory, risking his job and his family's lives. The fleeing Jews were refugees from German-occupied Western Poland and Soviet-occupied Eastern Poland, as well as residents of Lithuania. A few decades after the war, in 1985, the State of Israel honored Sugihara as one of the Righteous Among the Nations (Hebrew: חסידי אומות העולם) for his actions. He is the only Japanese national to have been so honored.
Chiune Sugihara was born on 1 January 1900 (Meiji 33), Mugi district (武儀郡) Kozuchi Town (上有知町), known today as Mino City (美濃市) in Gifu Prefecture, to a middle-class father, Yoshimi Sugihara (杉原好水 Sugihara Yoshimi), and an upper-middle class mother, Yatsu Sugihara (杉原やつ Sugihara Yatsu). When he was born, his father worked at a tax office in Kozuchi-town and his family lived in a borrowed temple, with the Buddhist temple Kyōsen-ji (教泉寺) where he was born nearby. He was the second son among five boys and one girl. His father and family moved into the tax office within the branch of the Nagoya Tax Administration Office one after another. In 1903 (Meiji 36) his family moved to Asahi Village in Niu-gun, Fukui Prefecture. In 1904 (Meiji 37) they moved to Yokkaichi city Mie Prefecture. On 25 October 1905 (Meiji 38), they moved to Nakatsu Town, Ena-gun, Gifu Prefecture. In 1906 (Meiji 39) on 2 April, Chiune entered Nakatsu Town Municipal Elementary School (now Nakatsugawa City Minami Elementary School in Gifu Prefecture). On 31 March 1907 (Meiji 40), he transferred to Kuwana Municipal Kuwana Elementary School in Mie Prefecture (currently Kuwana Municipal Nissin Elementary School). In December of that same year, he transferred to Nagoya Municipal Furuwatari Elementary School (now Nagoya Municipal Heiwa Elementary School). In 1912, he graduated with top honors from Furuwatari Elementary School and entered Aichi prefectural 5th secondary school (now Zuiryo high school), a combined junior and senior high school. His father wanted him to become 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 (Taishō 7) and majored in English language. At that time, he entered Yuai Gakusha, the Christian fraternity that had been founded by Baptist pastor Harry Baxter Benninhof, to improve his English.
In 1919 (Taishō 8), he passed the Foreign Ministry Scholarship exam. From 1920 to 1922 (Taishō 9 to 11), Sugihara served in the Imperial Army as a second lieutenant with the 79th Infantry, stationed in Korea, then a Japanese colony. He resigned his commission in November 1922 and took the Foreign Ministry's language qualifying exams the following year, passing the Russian exam with distinction. 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 on Russian affairs.
In 1935, Sugihara quit his post as Deputy Foreign Minister in Manchuria in protest over Japanese mistreatment of the local Chinese.
Sugihara and his wife divorced in 1935, before he returned to Japan, where he married Yukiko Kikuchi, who became Yukiko Sugihara (杉原 幸子 Sugihara Yukiko; 1913–8 October 2008) after the marriage; they had four sons (Hiroki, Chiaki, Haruki, Nobuki). As of 2010, Nobuki is their only surviving son and represents the Chiune Sugihara family. Chiune Sugihara also served in the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as a translator for the Japanese delegation in Helsinki, Finland.
among the Nations
In 1939, Sugihara became a vice-consul of the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania. His duties included reporting on Soviet and German troop movements, and to find out if Germany planned an attack on the Soviets and, if so, to report the details of this attack to his superiors in Berlin and Tokyo.
Sugihara had cooperated with Polish intelligence as part of a bigger Japanese–Polish cooperative plan. As the Soviet Union occupied sovereign 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, yet it was 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. At the time, on the brink of the war, Lithuanian Jews made up one third of Lithuania's urban population and half of the residents of every town as well. In the period 16 July - 3 August 1940 the Dutch Honorary Consul Jan Zwartendijk provided over 2,200 Jews with an official third destination to Curaçao, a Caribbean island and Dutch colony that required no entry visa, or Surinam (which, upon independence in 1975, 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 18 July to 28 August 1940, aware that applicants were in danger if they stayed behind, Sugihara decided to grant visas on his own. He ignored the requirements and issued ten-day visas to Jews for transit through Japan, in violation of his orders. Given his inferior post and the culture of the Japanese Foreign Service bureaucracy, this was an unusual 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 4 September, when he had to leave his post before the consulate was closed. By that time he had granted thousands of visas to Jews, many of whom were heads of households and thus permitted to take their families with them. According to witnesses, he was still writing visas while in transit from his hotel and after boarding the train at the Kaunas Railway Station, throwing visas into the crowd of desperate refugees out of 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. As he prepared to depart, he said, "Please forgive me. I cannot write anymore. I wish you the best." When he bowed deeply to the people before him, someone exclaimed, "Sugihara. We'll never forget you. I'll surely see you again!"
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, estimating about 6,000; 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 10,000 Jews from certain death, whereas Boston University professor and author, Hillel Levine, also estimates that he helped "as many as 10,000 people", but that far fewer people ultimately survived. Indeed, some Jews who received Sugihara's visas failed to leave Lithuania in time, were later captured by the Germans who invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, and perished in the Holocaust.
The Diplomatic Record Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has opened to the public two documents concerning Sugihara's file: the first aforementioned document is a 5 February 1941 diplomatic note from Chiune Sugihara to Japan's then Foreign Minister Yōsuke Matsuoka in which Sugihara stated he issued 1,500 out of 2,139 transit visas to Jews and Poles; however, since most of the 2,139 people were not Jewish, 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 Kaunas 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.
Many refugees used their visas to travel across the Soviet Union to Vladivostok and then by boat to Kobe, Japan, where there was a 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 in Kobe, Japan, and the Shanghai Ghetto, China.
The remaining number of Sugihara survivors stayed in Japan until they were deported to Japanese-held Shanghai, where there was already a large Jewish community that had existed as early as the mid-1930s. Some took the route through Korea directly to Shanghai without passing through Japan. A group of thirty people, all possessing a visa of "Jakub Goldberg", were bounced back and forth on the open sea for several weeks before finally being allowed to pass through Tsuruga. Most of the around 20,000 Jews survived the Holocaust in the Shanghai ghetto until the Japanese surrender in 1945, three to four months following the collapse of the Third Reich itself.
Sugihara was reassigned to Königsberg, East Prussia[page needed] before serving as a Consul General in Prague, Czechoslovakia, from March 1941 to late 1942 and in the legation in Bucharest, Romania from 1942 to 1944. He was promoted to the rank of third secretary in 1943, and was decorated with the Order of the Sacred Treasure, 5th Class, in 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.
Sugihara settled in Fujisawa in Kanagawa prefecture with his wife and 3 sons. 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, Haruki, died at the age of seven, shortly after their return to Japan. In 1949 they had one more son, Nobuki, who is the last son alive representing the Chiune Sugihara Family, residing in Belgium. 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, Yehoshua (alternatively spelled Jehoshua or Joshua) Nishri, an economic attaché 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 his recognition by Yad Vashem. In 1984, Yad Vashem recognised him as Righteous Among the Nations (Hebrew: חסידי אומות העולם, translit. Khasidei Umot ha-Olam). Sugihara was too ill to travel to Israel, so his wife and youngest son Nobuki accepted the honor on his behalf.
In 1985, 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.
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 by Moshe Zupnik why he risked his career to save other people, he said simply : "I do it just because I have pity on the people. They want to get out so I let them have the visas."
Sugihara died the following year at a hospital in Kamakura, on 31 July 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. He may have lost his diplomatic career but he received much posthumous acclaim.
The Sugihara House Museum is in Kaunas, Lithuania. The Conservative synagogue Temple Emeth, in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA, 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 after him. The Japanese government honored him on the 2000 centennial of his birth.
In the US, 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-sized 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."
He was posthumously awarded the Commander's Cross with the Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta in 2007, and the Commander's Cross Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland by the President of Poland in 1996. Also, in 1993, he was awarded the Life Saving Cross of Lithuania. He was posthumously awarded the Sakura Award by the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC) in Toronto in November 2014.
In June 2016, a street in Netanya, Israel was named for Sugihara in the presence of his son Nobuki, as a number of Netanya's current residents are descendants of the Lithuanian Jews who had been given a means of escaping the Third Reich. There is also a street named Consul Chiune Sugihara in Londrina Brazil.
A ceremony on a planned street named after the late Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara was held in Netanya, Israel, on Tuesday. Sugihara issued transit visas to thousands of Jews people during World War II, which later came to be known as "visas for life," as they saved many from Nazi persecution. Netanya is known as a place where many Jews arrived after fleeing from the oppression thanks to visas issued by Sugihara. The plan to build the street marks 30 years since Sugihara's death. "It's such an honor. I wish my father was here," said Sugihara's fourth son, Nobuki, 67.
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