When people think of heroes that emerged during the Holocaust, many picture Anne Frank and her brave journal or the German Oscar Schindler who rescued hundreds of Jews from concentration camps while serving on the Nazi party. However, many don’t know the tale of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese politician who granted thousands of Jews Japanese vias to escape Nazi-invaded areas during WWII.
Sugihara’s exposure to tragedy
In March of 1939, Sugihara, then the vice consul for the Japanese Empire, was stationed in Lithuania. Shortly after taking his station, Sugihara was exposed to the atrocities facing Jews in Nazi-occupied areas of Europe. In September, just 300 miles away from Sugihara in Poland, Nazis flooded the country. Jews who were facing persecution were desperate to find a means of escape from their terrifying circumstances. As a result, many fled to Lithuania, bringing tales of woe and tragedy with them. While they thought they would find safety in Lithuania, German soldiers began to invade the country in 1940, continuing to expand their control over Europe. Sugihara soon realized that his role in the war would be larger than he anticipated.
Finding a way to help
Being in a position of power, Sugihara had the ability to do one of two things: return to Japan with no personal consequence, or remain in Lithuania and help fight for the rights of the Jewish citizens of both Poland and Lithuania. Thankfully, he favored his humanity above his personal wellbeing. Sugihara could have easily lost his position in politics by helping out the Jews who fled to Lithuania, especially when his supervisors demanded that he do nothing to support their escape. However, he and his wife, Yukiko Sugihara, were willing to sacrifice their lives and careers to help save Polish Jews from falling into the hands of the Nazis. Despite the fact that Sugihara received the green light to back up and head home, Sugihara requested an extension to stay behind for another 20 days. He was granted the extension—and he used it wisely.
Writing a stunning 6,000 visas
Jewish citizens fleeing the Nazis were unable to pass through Soviet territory and East Asia without visas. The Jews were attempting to make their way to islands in the Carribean. Sugihara wanted to ensure that they could legally escape and do so without harm. He took it upon himself to personally grant thousands of visas to Jewish individuals and families to ensure that they could move through Asian territories without any hitches in transportation, despite being forbidden to do so by his supervisors. Across the course of several days, Sugihara wrote over 6,000 visas for Jews and their families. He was eventually detained and stripped of his title for his disobedience against his supervisors, but Sugihara’s bravery saved thousands of lives during a terrifying time in the Holocaust.