It is an account of a man who, in the face of great change and upheaval, chose to do the right thing. Throughout his life, Chiune consistently followed a humanitarian path when making decisions that affected people's lives.
Chiune Sugihara was born in Japan on the auspicious date of January 1, 1900. From an early age, encouraged by his mother and his samurai heritage, Chiune developed a deep empathy toward his fellow man.
His tendency to follow his heart first became evident when he purposely flunked a medical school entrance exam. Instead of following his father's wishes, Chiune enrolled in Waseda Univeristy, Tokyo.
While at Waseda, Chiune was recruited by the Japanese Foreign Ministry. He was assigned to Harbin, Manchuria, where he quickly became proficient in the Russian language and became a rising star in the ministry.
However, in 1935, he unexpectedly resigned to protest the Japanese military's brutal behavior of Chinese civilians. The Japanese Foreign Ministry chose to overlook this act and, after several reassignments, Chiune was assigned to open a Consulate in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania.
By 1940, Chiune and his wife, Yukiko, had three children and lived a comfortable, peaceful life in Kaunas. However, in late July, their idyllic existence was suddenly disrupted by the appearance of hundreds of Jewish refugees demanding entrance to the Consulate for transit visas to escape the Holocaust. Now, the family was confronted with one of the most dramatic and life-altering events of their lives.
Once again, Chiune demonstrated his tendency to make decisions based on humanitarian principles. Defying the direct orders of the Japanese government, and with his family's support, he decided to issue the life-saving visas.
In less than one month, he issued 2,000 visas, resulting in his saving over 6,000 lives. Today, the descendants of these survivors number over 100,000.
It must be noted here that, without the collaboration and cooperation of many other courageous individuals, Chiune's deed would not have succeeded. The cooperation of the Dutch interim consul Zwartendijk was crucial in creating an end destination required to make the visas valid. The hard work and determination of Zorach Warhaftig, a Jewish leader in Lithuania, was another key element in the life-saving action.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry, still needing Chiune's language and organizational skills in this worst of times, decided to postpone disciplinary action and reassigned him to several other posts in eastern Europe.
In Bucharest, Romania, the family was captured by Russian soldiers and imprisoned in a POW camp for 18 months. Finally, upon their release in 1946, the family returned to Japan via the steppes of Russia -- ironically, the very same route taken by the refugees who received Chiune's visas.
Back in Japan, Chiune was unceremoniously dismissed from diplomatic service for issuing the transit visas. Disgraced in his home country, he took odd jobs for several years. In the mid-1960s, he took a job as a trading company manager in Moscow, where he lived for 16 years, separated from his family for most of that time.
In 1968, a survivor finally located Chiune after long years of searching. For the first time -- 28 years after his good deed -- Chiune realized that the Jews he helped actually survived. In 1985, Chiune was recognized by the State of Israel, receiving the Righteous Among the Nations award from the Yad Vashem, the only Asian receipient of this honor.
In July 1986, Chiune passed away in his home near Tokyo.
You can learn more about the life and work of Chiune Sugihara in The Gift, written by Anne Akabori. Please see our Publications page for more information
Anne Akabori, Chair · 1349 Gagle
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