That’s when Chiune met Yukiko, and she became his second wife. They had four sons together. Chiune was assigned to work as translator for the Japanese legate in Helsinki, Finland and the family moved with him. In Europe he adopted the nickname “Sempo” for himself, a phonetic pronunciation of the characters of his name which was easier for westerners to pronounce.
The capital city of Lithuania, Kaunas, was well situated between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. His superiors wanted Chiune to open a one-man consulate there. His primary responsibility was to observe and report troop movements from either side, while cooperating with Polish intelligence as part of a broader agreement between Poland and Japan.
Friendly, cultured Chiune was shopping one day when he overheard a young Jewish boy, Solly Ganor, tellling his aunt how he’d given all his money to a Jewish charity and wanted to borrow one lit (Lithuanian currency) to see a movie. Chiune was so impressed with the lad, he gave him two lit. Young Solly responded to this generosity by inviting Chiune to spend the first night of Hanukkah 1939 with his family. Chiune went and appreciated the ritual.
Toward the end of 1939, Nazis invaded and occupied Poland. Polish Jews fled into neighboring Lithuania. The large minority of Lithuanian Jews already living there did their best to provide for the refugees. Then in the early months of 1940, Soviet forces occupied Lithuania. Neither Polish Jewish refugees nor Lithuanian Jews felt safe remaining in the country.
Nearly all of western Europe had fallen to Nazi rule, and the scant remaining free nations refused to take in Jewish refugees. It’s impossible to calculate how many lives England of Switzerland could have spared by accepting refugees, but looking at Aleppo shows us what happens when refugees are refused. The whole world holds guilt in both cases for their cold responses to the humanitarian crises.