Nazi Resistors: Chiune Sugihara 3/4

Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara

In order to leave Lithuania and travel east away from antisemitic fascism, Polish and Lithuanian Jews needed travel visas to pass through or settle somewhere new. However, virtually no country was writing them. Hundreds of Jews showed up at Chiune’s tiny consulate wanting visas. Japan would not take permanent refugees, but might it let them pass through?

The Dutch consul in Lithuania had suggested two Dutch colonies in the Caribbean which had no entry visa requirements as a safe end destination. Chiune secured Soviet permission for escaping Jews to travel through on the Trans-Siberian Railway, for four times the regular ticket price. Doubtless some of the Jews who did not escape in time could not afford tickets. 

Chiune wrote his superiors in Japan three times, asking for permission to grant visas to Jews to travel through Japan on their way to the Caribbean. Each time the response was the same: no one could’ve granted a Japanese travel visa unless they already had entry visas to a final destination, with no exceptions for fleeing genocide. Then came the order to close the consulate and return to Japan. 

Chiune, the man who rebelled against his father’s wishes, who resigned his government post over inhumane treatment of others, and married a white woman, was uncertain what he would do. He brought the problem to Yukiko to discuss. They worried about the consequences of disobedience, for his career, for their children, for their lives. 

Many years later Chiune recalled he was thinking at the time of an old Samurai proverb: Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which has flown to him for rescue. He said simply, “They were human beings and they needed help. I’m glad I found the strength to make the decision to give it to them.” And, “I may have to disobey my government, but if I don’t I would be disobeying God.”

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