The “Japanese Schindler”

31 Dec

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.

杉原千畝 (Sugihara Chiune),
1900 Jan 1 - 1986 July 31.

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.


Monument to 杉原千畝 (Sugihara Chiune) in "Little Tokyo", Los Angeles, California, USA.

14 Responses to “The “Japanese Schindler””

  1. Monex January 19, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    He explained the extenuating circumstances Japan was the only transit country available for those going in the direction of the United States and his visas were needed for departure from the Soviet Union.


    • tokyo5 January 19, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

      Did you already know about Mr. Sugihara’s story?


  2. pongrocks January 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    I don’t really know how well known most of the stories are outside of Germany. Another well known group of anti-war people were “Weiße Rose” (white rose). They were distributing flyers in Munich with anti-war slogans. After 6 flyers they were captured and later convicted and sentenced to death. I think the leaders (Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst) were executed in 1943.
    I guess the 20th july plot was already mentioned, it was made pretty famous by the movie Valkyrie staring Tom Cruise as Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg.

    In retrospective it’s almost impossible to know how people must have felt back then. Even rumours about you being against Adolf Hitler could have been enough to get yourself executed.


    • tokyo5 January 16, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

      I had never heard of the “White Rose” group before. You should write a blog post about them.

      >Even rumours about you being against Adolf Hitler could have been enough to get yourself executed.

      That period is a dark time in man’s history. Hopefully mankind can learn from past mistakes and also from the heroes that stood for what’s right.


  3. pongrocks January 13, 2011 at 3:02 am #

    There were lots of anti-war heroes in Germany during world war. Since I am German and just finished school last year, I sure had my fair share of WWII in history class. Actually, most of History class was about WWI & WWII. Literally every day you can watch a handful of documentations on tv about how cruel the wars were. Cruel is not even strong enough of a word to describe it.

    When I was in 11th grade (about 16 or 17 years old) my history class teacher showed footage Russian and American soldiers shot when they found concentration camps. That was about the cruelest thing I ever saw, and if you know what kind of footage that is you will definitely agree. Showing that to children is questionable but I am glad he did it.
    We have to make damn sure something like this never happens again, and the fact that it is happening right now and will happen in the future makes me sick.
    I guess what I want to say is that it’s inevitable to face the past and learn from mistakes, although most of us can’t believe how this happened in the first place.

    Sorry, but I always get a little worked up when I read about this stuff… 😉


    • tokyo5 January 13, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

      >There were lots of anti-war heroes in Germany during World War (2).

      I’m sure there were.

      Do you know any stories that are well-known in Germany but those of us outside of Germany might not know about?


  4. Dan Elvins January 1, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    This is something I had myself already read about online somewhere a while back, but it does make me think of the way that as far as the majority of countries are concerned “england and american = good, germany and Japan = Evil”. Whilst I cant argue with the fact that Germany and Japan both commited war crimes and other unspeakable acts, not everyone agreed with it. Germany had rebels, people that were strongly against hitler and everything he stood for (tom cruise Valkryie for example), Japan also had many people who were opposed to it, but in both countries people were too afraid to step forward and say something, as they would surely have been executed.

    World War II was not black and white and the histroy books in schools need to reflect this, for a long time I thought germany was 100% evil when I was a child, but as I grew up I realised (after several trips to germany) that I was wrong, very wrong.

    This man shows that Japan had similar men, that despite what many people think, Japan was still a country of people and not just a country of murderers.

    Great post.


    • tokyo5 January 1, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

      >“england and american = good, germany and Japan = Evil”.

      Yes, in most history books WW2 is simplified that way.
      But, as with everything, it wasn’t quite so clear-cut.

      >Germany had rebels…Valkryie for example

      And Oskar Schindler, as I mentioned in this post.

      >World War II was not black and white and the histroy books in schools need to reflect this

      I’ve written a number of “World War 2” related posts besides this one.
      For example:
      Click here to read about a Japanese sailor who saved many English sailors’ lives.
      Click here to read the last letter that a Japanese Kamikaze pilot wrote to his infant daughter.
      Click here to read about a Japanese man who survived both nuclear attacks on Japan.


  5. dpspurr January 1, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    Men like this need to be in school textbooks in all countries, to remind people once again that wars are not black and white conflicts – as long as men like Sugihara-san exist, evil will not triumph in the world.


    • tokyo5 January 1, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

      I agree. His story should be more widely known.

      By the way, he was born on the first day of the 20th century (1900 Jan 1).
      Today would be his 111th birthday.


  6. metalodyssey December 31, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    Without any doubt in my mind… Mr. Chiune was a hero for/of humanity.


    • tokyo5 December 31, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

      >Mr. Chiune was a hero

      Actually, Japanese family names are written first. So, he is “Mr. Sugihara”.

      But, anyways, I agree with you. He was a hero.


      • metalodyssey January 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

        Gee, I did not realize that. I feel semi-embarrassed! I remember reading about this gentleman years ago… your post has been a fine reminder of a truly important figure in the history of that dreadful war.


      • tokyo5 January 2, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

        >I feel semi-embarrassed!

        No need. How would you know?
        Actually, I usually write Japanese people’s names the Japanese way (last name first) in Japanese characters followed by the western way (first name first) in English alphabet in parentheses.

        I forgot to do it that way in this post.

        >I remember reading about this gentleman years ago

        You’ve heard of him before? On the internet?


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