Saturday, January 22, 2011

Japanese Government in War and Chiune Sugihara for Visas for Lives

For those who do not know "Chiune "Sempo" Sugihara", Sugihara was the Vice-consul in Japanese Consulate in Lithuania during World War II in 1940s. He issued tens of thousands of visas helping Jewish refugees to exit Russia, Poland, and Lithuania. It is thought that the number of refugees whom he saved would be between 6,000 and 10,000. It is why he is called the "Japanese Schindler". Before he started issuing visas for refugees, he requested approval to issue visas for refugees to the Imperial Japanese Government. According to an official record, he requested approval three times. All of the requests were rejected.

He decided to ignore the Japanese Government's regulations and issued visas to refugees who would not normally qualify. This was obviously violating Japanese law. The Japanese Government were in alliance with the anti-Semitic Germany. His conduct could endanger the alliance between Germany and Japan. He had issued visas against Japan law for what he believed to be right. It was a brave humanitarian action. However, the big question is why the Japanese government did nothing to stop his illegal activity.

 Unfortunately, due to the chaos of the war, there is no official record left. We cannot know exactly what was the Japanese Government reaction to Sugihara's action. However, there are two prominent facts, which interest us today. 1) Japanese Government could stop Sugihara if they had wanted, but they did not. 2) Japanese Government did not reject admission of Jewish people who exited from Lithuania, despite that they could do.

Instead, when refugees' entry to Japan was about to be rejected, the Government of Japan in coordination with Jewish community in Kobe allowed the refugees to enter into Japan. Many of them moved to Shanghai and the US. A not so small number of people stayed in Japan. There might have been a strong supporter of Sugiura in the Japanese government to help him. It is true that the Government of Japan supported Sugihara's action in helping those refugees by not rejecting the applications of refugees. Who were those people who supported Sugihara's activities? How many were they? What were their names? Though our imagination can go on and on, we are unable to know who they were now. They are all gone from history due to confusion in the lost war.

Sugihara continued to serve the Foreign Ministry of Japan as a diplomat in various European countries such as Czechoslovakia and Bucharest after he left Lithuania. After the end of the war, after being held as a POW camp for 18 months in Romania, he returned to Japan in 1946. He resigned from the Foreign Ministry in 1947. Many believe that he was asked to resign from Foreign Ministry due to his conduct in Lithuania. The official government record only shows that Sugihara resigned. After his resignation, Sugihara worked for a trading firm using his language skills. He was stationed in Moscow as the general representative of the trading company in the 1960s. Israel, Poland, and the Japanese governments gave him an honor for his humanitarian activity giving him honorable medals. Israel offered him, his family, and his descendants an honor of perpetual Israeli citizenship. Sugihara died on July 31, 1986 from a stroke. He was 86 years old. Asked why he did what he did, he answered that he could not stop helping people who were suffering.

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