Chiune Sugihara: Japanese hero

THIS paper is about a Holocaust hero named Chiune Sugihara. At the beginning of World War II, Sugihara saved six thousand Jews who were trying to escape Nazi cruelty. His courage and bravery is now praised by thousands of Jews. Many tributes have been made to Sugihara, who has been recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations.”

Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese consul in Lithuania whose bravery is praised by many Jewish people. He risked his career and his future to save six thousand Jews in the beginning of World War II. Sugihara gave Jews entry visas, which was against the order of the Japanese government. Because of his actions, he lost his job and respectability in much of Japanese society (Foster).

Chiune Sugihara was born on January 1, 1900, in Yaotsu, Gifu Pref., and died on July 31, 1986. As a young man in junior high school, he was good at English and hoped to be an English teacher. As an adult, Sugihara was interested in foreign ideas, religion, philosophy and language. He married a Caucasian woman named Yukiko, who helped him greatly in saving the Jews. Sugihara was raised in the strict Japanese code of ethics in a samurai family. He learned the virtues of the Japanese society, which included love for the family, for the sake of the children, duty and responsibility, or obligation to repay a debt, and not to bring shame on the family. Internal strength and resourcefulness and withholding of emotions on the surface, were other virtues Sugihara learned and displayed in his attempted to rescue the Jews. These virtues were strongly enforced by Sugihara’s middle-class rural samurai family (Saul).

The German invasion of Poland filled Lithuania with Jewish refugees who were escaping from Hitler’s advancing troops. In order for the fugitives to escape, they needed transit visas. Without these visas it was dangerous to travel, and it was impossible to find countries willing to issue them (“Sugihara”).

On a summer morning in late July, 1940, consul Sugihara awakened to a crowd of Jewish refugees gathered outside the consulate. The refugees knew that their only path lay to the east and if Sugihara would grant them Japanese transit visas, they could obtain exit visas and race to possible freedom. Sugihara needed permission from the Japanese Foreign Ministry; otherwise, he had no authority to issue out hundreds of visas. But permission was denied three times by the Japanese government. Now Sugihara was faced with a difficult decision. He had to make a choice that would probably result in extreme financial hard-ship for his family in the future. He also knew that if he went against the orders of his government, he might be fired and disgraced, and never work for Japan’s government again (Saul).

Sugihara made a decision based on the hundreds of desperate Jews lined up outside the consulate. He disobeyed the Japanese government and forged documents to help the refugees to safety (Kelly). Sugihara and his wife wrote over three hundred visas a day, which would normally be done in one month by the consul. He did not even stop to eat because he chose not to lose a minute. People were standing in line in front of his consulate day and night for these visas. After getting their visas, the refugees lost no time in getting on trains that took them to Moscow, and then by trans-Siberian railroad to Vladivostok. They had escaped the death camps and the Holocaust all together (Saul).

In 1945, the Japanese government informally dismissed Chiune Sugihara from the diplomatic service and his career was shattered. Then Sugihara and his family were forced to leave Lithuania and go to Romania. In Romania, as punishment for his illegal actions, he was imprisoned for two years. When he returned to Japan, he was in disgrace. He worked at odd jobs to support his family (Kelly). Sugihara never spoke about his dismissal because it was too painful for him. He also never spoke about his deeds. Donald Gartman, director of the United Jewish Federation of Utah, said Sugihara obeyed his conscience about what he thought was the right thing to do and not the directives of his country (Foster). He had the power to produce effects of his efforts. For example, even as he was on the train that was pulling away from Lithuania on his way to prison, he was still signing papers as fast as he could and throwing them out of the window (Kelly).

Forty-five years after signing the visas, he was asked why he did it. Sugihara liked to give two reasons: one, that these refugees were human beings, and the other, that they simply needed help. Sugihara believed in God and chose to disobey his government rather then disobey God. He deserves to be honored and remembered, and many people, especially the thousands of Jewish who were rescued, owe their lives to this Japanese man and his family. Chiune’s heroism was left unnoticed for more than twenty years. Despite the difficult decision he made, he never claimed any type of reimbursement. Tributes have been made and many Jews are proud of his heroic efforts. Sugihara has been recognized as Righteous Among the Nation’ by the Yad Vashem Martyrs Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem. Along with this recognition a tree was planted in his name at Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem), and a park in Jerusalem was named in his honor (Saul).

Heroes who resisted Nazi cruelty were under lots of pressure on what decisions they should take to save Jews. If they were caught they would probably face imprisonment, execution, or be sent to the death camps. Chiune Sugihara didn’t fear any of these punishments. All he wanted was to rescue desperate Jews who asked for his help. I believe Sugihara’s rare courage came from the morals he learned from his Japanese family, and also from his strong belief in the universal God of all people. Moreover, his story shows us how the Holocaust was a nightmare that no one wanted to live through. Sugihara made the right decision to follow his heart and conscience to do the right thing. Many more Jews would have died if Sugihara had not been there for them.



Getting the visas was just the first part in a long and treacherous journey for those Jews who were fortunate enough to get the visas. They then traveled thousands of perilous miles through eastern Europe, Russian, and into Siberia, escaping the invading Nazi army. Eventually, they ended up in Shanghai, China. Most of coastal China was under Japanese occupation. There was already a small Jewish community in Shanghai that had been established in 1861 by Jewish merchants. The Japanese were incredibly brutal toward the Chinese. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese were murdered by a Japanese reign of terror. However, the Jewish refugees were treated quite well by the occupying Japanese armwy, despite the fact that Japan was an ally of Nazi Germany during World War II.

Many of these Jewish refugees eventually went to Kobi, Japan, where again they were treated quite well. Curiously, Japanese government officials had read the anti-Semitic Czarist forgery called Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, in which Jews were supposedly conspiring to take over the world. In most countries, this provoked (and continues to provoke) hatred toward the Jews. However, among the Japanese, it provoked admiration that a relatively small population group as the Jews would be able to possibly take over the world. Apparently, they wanted the Jews as their allies in their own imperial schemes. (In actuality, it is hard to imagine Jews being unified enough to carry out such schemes such as Learned Elders would have us believe. You know the expression: Two Jews, three opinions.) These Jewish refugees established thriving Jewish communities in Shanghai and Kobi, along with synagogues, in both cities, despite all the difficulties of language and cultural barriers. After the war, most of these Jews departed to other locations.

In the early 1980’s, Sugihara finally went to Israel, where he received a hero’s welcome.


Works Cited:

Foster, Shaul. “Groups to Remember War Hero Who Saved Jews From Death.” The Salt Lake Tribute. 24 November 1996.

Kelly, Jill. “Son of Holocaust Hero Praises His Father’s Action.” Yale News. 15 April 1996. </P (11 February 1997).

Saul, Eric. “Visas for Life: The Remarkable Story of Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara.” 1995. (7 February 1997).

“Sugihara.” Holocaust Memorial Center. (11 February 1997).


By: Veronica Green.

Source: Chiune Sugihara Japanese Hero (

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