Japan and Jewish Refugees during World War II _ Diplomat Chiune Sugihara (1900 – 1986)

Diplomat Chiune Sugihara (1900 – 1986)

Sugihara was the vice consul for the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1939 after working for the Japanese delegation in Helsinki (Finland) as a translator, and he was afterwards the Consul General in Prague (Czechoslovakia), Konigsberg (Germany) and Bucharest (Romania).

Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union when Sugihara was there as the Consul General, and Nazi Germany persecuted Jewish people. Jewish refugees in Poland and Lithuania wanted to acquire exit visas to leave Europe. Many Jewish refugees came to the Japanese consulate in Kaunas as Sugihara was working there. The Japanese government’s official requirements for granting visas were that applicants had a visa to a third destination to exit Japan and enough own funds. However, many refugees could not fulfill these conditions. Sugihara granted visas despite violation of the Japanese official regulations in order to save the life of Jewish people who fled by the Trans-Siberian Railway. They travelled further either from Vladivostok to Japan by ship and from there to the USA or through Manchukuo (Japanese territory) to Shanghai (concessions within China held by the UK, the USA, France and Japan at the time) and from there to other continents. It was said that Sugihara issued more than 4000 visas.

Sugihara saved many lives of Jewish people. However; that he granted visas against the rejection of the Japanese government might not be quite true. Without any governmental permissions, refugees could not pass through Japan-controlled Manchukuo nor board ships bound for Japan. Neither were they allowed to enter Japan. Sugihara was even also awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Japanese government in 1944. As already mentioned in the short essay on Lieutenant General Kiichiro Higuchi (1888 – 1970), the Japanese government took the position to save Jewish refugees’ lives although Japan was allied with Germany. Since Japan was allied with Germany, Japan might have wanted to avoid becoming entangled in a diplomatic dispute with Germany. The Japanese foreign ministry and the government might have pretended not to see the visas granted to Jewish refugees. It is very weird that two different stories exist.

At the end of the Second World War in 1945, Sugihara and his family were imprisoned in a Prisoner of War camp in Romania as the Soviet troops entered Romania. They were released and returned to Japan in 1947. He was asked by the Japanese Foreign Ministry to resign due to downsizing because Japan forfeited its sovereignty after the lost war. Japan regained its sovereignty in April 1952. Sugihara worked for an export company after the war and went on to work in the Soviet Union for more than ten years. During this period in the Soviet Union, his family stayed in Japan. In 1968, an Israeli sent to the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo finally found Sugihara and contacted him. This Israeli was saved by a visa issued by Sugihara. Israel honored Sugihara and awarded him the Righteous Among the Nations certificate and medal (Yad Vashem award) in 1985.


The Chiune Sugihara Memorial Hall.

Wikipedia: Order of the Sacred Treasure awarded persons. https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:勲五等瑞宝章受章者

American Jewish Japan Society: Jewish-Japanese Relations. https://www.ajjsociety.org/americanjewishjapanhistory

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