Today is the last day of the first decade of the 21st century. And New Years is Japan’s biggest holiday. But this post is unrelated to that. Click here if you’d like to read an post I wrote about New Years in Japan.
This post is about a man who risked his career and even his life to help save thousands of Jews from Nazis in Europe during World War II.
His name is 杉原千畝 (Sugihara Chiune) and he’s often called the “Japanese Schindler” because his courageous actions were similar to the German Oskar Schindler whose story was made famous by the movie titled “Schindler’s List” by Steven Spielberg.
杉原千畝 (Sugihara Chiune) was a diplomat for Japan in Lithuania during the war.
While stationed there he issued thousands of visas to Jews to enter Japan and transit to America, Canada or other countries.
He issued the visas without proper approval from Tokyo and without even requiring proper application paperwork from the people he gave them to.
If he was discovered by the Japanese government he would have be striped of his diplomatic credentials, removed from office and probably prosecuted.
If he was discovered by the Nazis, his fate would surely have been much worse.
When asked why he risked so much, he replied:
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.
— 杉原千畝 (Sugihara Chiune)
There are monuments dedicated to 杉原千畝 (Sugihara Chiune) in America, Europe and Japan.