Nazi Resistors: Chiune Sugihara 4/4

Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara

Chiune and Yukiko resolved to follow their consciences. Chiune filed for a twenty day extension before returning home to Japan. From July 31 through August 28,1940, Chiune handwrote visas, one after the other, three hundred a day. Yukiko brought sandwiches to his desk and massaged his aching hands during naps. Chiune stayed awake 18-20 hours at a time writing visas for Polish and Lithuanian Jews. 

He kept writing them as the Sugiharas boarded their train, handing blank sheets of paper with only his stamp and signature out the window to issue as many as possible. As the train pulled away, Chiune gave his official stamp to a Jewish man on the platform so he could continue making more. Japanese official records count 5,580 visas issued. Some of these were family or head of household visas, and saved many people each. Tragically not everyone who received a visa was able to leave in time to escape the Holocaust, but the vast majority did. 

One such man who was captured by Nazis was at Auschwitz when Japanese-American soldiers, who had lived in internment camps before joining the military (one of the only ways to leave a camp), liberated the prisoners. Between Chiune’s efforts and these soldiers come to free him, he said he came to see a Japanese face as the face of freedom of kindness. 

The Sugiharas were reassigned to Romania. When it fell to Russian invasion the whole family was kept in a Soviet POW camp until their release in 1946. Chiune was dismissed from diplomatic service shortly after returning home to Japan, shattering his bright career. He worked menial jobs for many years before being hired by an export company for his mastery of Russian. He lived sixteen years in the Soviet Union, sending money to his family in Japan. 

The estimate of how many Chiune and Yukiko directly saved is between six and ten thousand Jewish lives. Approximately 40,000 Jews alive today are the direct descendants of the Jews Chiune saved. The Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, named Chiune Sugihara one of the Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed on non Jews who saved Jewish lives in the Holocaust. He is the only Japanese national so honored. 

A tree was planted at Yad Vashem in his honor, and a park and city street in Israel bear his name. A Japanese language biopic movie Persona Non Grata tells the story of how he saved thousands of lives, including entire families, by a heroic feat of administrative paperwork. Chiune died in July, 1986, when he was 86 years old. Yukiko followed in 2008. Today they are remembered for their selfless act of disobedience.

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