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Righteous Among Nations - Chiune Sugihara

by Nov 17, 2019

Among documents preserved in the Japanese Foreign Ministry archives in Tokyo is a list of 6,500 names. Some of the names on the list are individuals, others represent entire families. Close to 10,000 individuals are represented altogether. They are among those that escaped the Holocaust in Europe.

The journey of those 10,000 individuals to safety required the goodwill of many others along the way - and a signed transit visa stamp that was issued by a career diplomat from Japan, Chiune Sugihara.

They were fleeing their Polish homeland after Germany’s devastating Blitzkrieg in September 1939.

In November 1939 Chiune Sugihara was sent to the Japanese Consulate in Kovno, now Kaunas, in Lithuania. He was directed to report German and Soviet military activities.

By the time he arrived, more than 15,000 Jewish refugees had crossed the border into Lithuania, seeking a way onward to safety.

“They knew terrible things were happening. The panic was real…”, but the Nazi’s had yet to finalize their Final Solution. That would come in 1942 after the conference in Wannsee.

The USSR annexed Lithuania in the summer of 1940 and directed all foreign diplomats to leave by September. As Sugihara was preparing, a delegation of Jewish refugees arrived at the consulate with a request for help.

If the Japanese Consul would issue transit visas, they would be allowed to leave Lithuania and cross the Soviet Union to safety.

Sugihara listened, and then he acted, issuing thousands of life-saving transit visas over the coming months. Upwards of 10,000 people are estimated to have survived the holocaust as a result.

Even after his departure from Kovno, Sugihara’s transit visas continued to be issued by others who he’d given duplicate “Sugihara” stamps.

The German army invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. German Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing squads made up of Nazi SS units and police followed the German army into the occupied Soviet territory.

An SS Colonel, Karl Jaeger, in command of one of these ‘special duty units’ assigned to Lithuania between July 2 and December 1, 1941, reported killing 137,346 Jewish men, women, and children in the cities of Kovno, Ukmerge, and Vilna in a series of massacres.

On October 4, 1984, YAD VASHEM, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem recognized Chiune Sugihara as “Righteous Among the Nations”

“The Righteous Among the Nations are a most diverse group of men and women coming from all walks of life, age groups, religious affiliation and professions – university people, teachers, physicians, clergy, diplomats, simple workers, servants, policemen, fishermen, farmers, undertakers.

They include highly educated city dwellers and illiterate peasants, officials and people from the margins of society. The only common denominator is that they believed that the Jews belonged to their universe of obligation and that they were willing to pay a dear price for this commitment.”