Life Studies Blog (Old)

October 20, 2005

Sempo Sugihara, the Japanese Schindler (by M)


October 11th, the TV drama, Visas for Six Thousand People's Lives: Sempo Sugihara, the Japanese Schindler, was aired on Yomiuri Television. The story was really moving. Sempo (Chiune Senpo) Sugihara was born in 1900 in Gifu Prefecture, Japan. In 1939, Sempo was sent to Lithuania as consul. One morning in 1940, Sempo and his family were surprised at a number of Jewish refugees gathering at the gate of the Japanese Embassy. They asked him to issue transit visas to pass through Japan because other countries refused to issue any visas to the Jews. Sempo wondered if he could issues visas, and asked the Japanese government, however, they firmly rejected Sempo's proposal. It became clear that issuing visas was contrary to the policy of the Japanese government, and that if he did he might lose his job as a diplomat. But, in front of the gate there were a number of Jewish people waiting for transit visas. They might lose their lives if they do not get visas.

After a few days of hesitation, he finally decided to issue transit visas to them. He started to issue a number of visas to the Jews, day and night, with the help of his secretary and his wife. Soon, the Russian police came to the Embassy and forced him to get out of the building. He and his family stayed at a hotel, and continued to issue visas. Many Jews gathered around the hotel. Then he was forced to get out of Lithuania. On the last day, on the platform in front of the train he still continued issuing. He wrote and wrote and wrote. The number of visas he wrote was more than 3 thousand, and almost 6 thousand Jewish people's lives were saved. He is said to have written more than 300 visas a day. Those Jews were called Sugihara Survivers today.

After the end of World War II, Sugihara was fired from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was 47 years old (the same age as me...). He spent the rest of his life quietly at home doing some translation works. One day in 1969, a Jewish man who was saved by Sempo, came to meet him. This man had long been trying to find him, and finally found Sempo's house. They met, and Sempo knew for the first time the people he issued visas to were alive in Israel. In 1985, he was recognized as "Rightous among the nations" in Israel. He died next year peacefully.

Because Sempo kept silence after the war, his achievements had not been known to the Japanese, and the world audience, until recently. Probably, many people who watched this TV program got to know Senpo and what he did during the war for the first time. This was a really good TV drama.

I remember that in a bioethics meeting held in Tokyo in the early 1990s, Frank Leavitt, a philosopher from Israel, talked about Sempo Sugihara before his academic presentation. At that time I did not know anything about Sempo. Many Japanese audience would have been the same.

About Sempo Chiune Sugihara, visit
the article at Jewish Virtual Library. If you read Japanese Wiki will be helpful.

Photo: Kawachi ondo (Kawachi dance song) in Autumn festival, Osaka.

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