Roughly 6,000 Jews were saved by Chiune Sugihara, Japanese ambassador to Lithuania in 1940, who granted them visas to travel to Japan and escape the Nazis.
The story of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved hundreds of Jews from death in the Holocaust and honored by Yad Vashem as a “Righteous Among the Nations,” is one of the most well known episodes in Holocaust history. Less well known is the story of the “Japanese Schindler,” Chiune Sugihara, who according to estimates saved roughly 6,000 Lithuanian Jews simply by granting them visas.
Sugihara was Japan’s ambassador to Lithuania in 1940, when the Germans invaded the country. Jews came to the Japanese consulate in the hope of obtaining visas to escape the Nazis. The Japanese government denied Sugihara’s request to grant them visas, but he decided to disobey the order and grant them anyway.
He was able to print and stamp about 2,000 family visas, on which multiple people could travel, before he was forced to leave Kaunas (at that time the Lithuanian capital).
According to witnesses, he kept writing visas on his way to the train, and when he ran out of time he threw papers stamped with the consulate seal and his signature out the train window, so that refugees in the following crowd could write the visas on their own.
Once he returned to Japan, he was fired by the government for disobediance. A report on Israel’s Kan News followed Sugihara’s son, Nobuki, at a dedication of a plaque for his father at the Chamber of the Holocaust, a small museum on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. The elder Sugihara was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations in 1985. He refused a monetary award from the Israeli government, but he agreed to accept a scholarship for his son to study in Jerusalem.
“My father didn’t tell me anything [about his work in Lithuania] when I was a child,” said Nobuki in Hebrew in an interview with Kan. He was 19 years old when he discovered what his father did.
After asking his father what he thought when he was granting the visas, Chiune replied that he only hoped that one or two Jewish refugees would escape from the situation in Europe.