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Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Schindler (Sempo Sugihara)


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 Sempo) 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 Sempo 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.

See the comment in AmbivaBlog:

I didn't know Raoul Wallenberg either....

Postscript 2:
The difference between Sempo Sugihara and Chiune Sugihara:

You might wonder why he has two names, Sempo and Chiune. His real name is Chiune Sugihara. But "Chiune" was difficult for European people to correctly pronounce, hence, he proposed to call himself "Sempo," which was another way of pronouncing the Chinese characters of his first name.

Actually, it is difficult for Japanese people to guess the pronunciation "Chi-une" when seeing the Chinese characters of his first name.

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

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

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After living a well-lived, fascinating, and uniquely interesting life, Mrs. Yukiko (nee Kikuchi) passed away peacefully at the age of 94 years on October 8, 2008. Mrs. Sugihara was the widow of the late Consul Chiune Sugihara, who was assigned to a Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania, prior to the onset of WWII. During this assignment, despite the orders of his government, he was instrumental in saving thousands of Jews in their efforts to escape Hitler’s Holocaust by issuing life saving visas. With Mrs. Sugihara’s support and encouragement, the family (including three sons), chose to risk their lives and safety, declaring, “Although I chose to disobey my government, I could not disobey my God.”
Mrs. Yukiko Sugihara was born in 1913 in Numazu and grew up on Shikoku Island. She met and married Chiune Sugihara in 1935. Their first-born (1936) son, Hiroki, founded a Foundation in San Francisco dedicated to perpetuate the memory and legacy of his father in 1997, and which Mrs. Sugihara supported as Honorary Chair. Before Hiroki passed away in 2001, he became a familiar figure in Japan town where he lived, while in the USA, ironically staying sporadically, due to visa requirements.
Following a stroke, the last several years of Mrs. Yukiko Sugihara was spent in a nursing home near Fujisawa. She is survived by two remaining sons, Chiaki Sugihara of Fujisawa, Japan and Nobuki Sugihara who resides in Belgium. A private funeral service was held by Chiaki following her passing. Her ashes will be interned at Kamakura where she will be joined with her husband, Chiune, a son, Haruki who passed away in 1946, and with Hiroki. Formal services are planned by sons, Chiaki and Nobuki that is scheduled to be held on November 9, 2008 in Tokyo, (Aoyama District), Japan.
The passing of Mrs. Yukiko Sugihara signals the end of an era highlighted by tumultuous events such as WWII, the defeat of the Axis Forces, the aftermath of the war and reconstruction of Europe, the rapid rise of Japan as a powerful economic force, and followed by Japan’s decline due to the economic “bubble burst.” Her life encompassed all of these events, but most significantly, along with her husband, Chiune, for thousands of Jewish lives, they both became symbols of hope and life.

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