In the summer of 1940, the little Baltic nation of Lithuania was being flooded by Jewish refugees from Poland. Lithuania had its own considerable Jewish population, and all were concerned not only about the Soviet take-over of the little country, but the very real threat of an invasion by the National Socialist armies of Germany. Chiune Sugihara was a career diplomat for Imperial Japan in the Japanese consulate in Kaunas Lithuania, and soon thousands of Jews sought him out asking for travel visas to get out of Lithuania and the Soviet Union. No country was officially willing to issue visas to these desperate people.
Mr. Sugihara cabled his bosses in Tokyo three times asking permission to write visas to Jewish families so that they could travel across the Soviet Union by way of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, then go on to Japan. From there they could try to find other countries to let them in, but at least in Japan they would not be hunted down by Nazis and exterminated. Three times the Foreign Office of Japan told Sugihara “no.”
Sugihara disobeyed his superiors and began writing visas for entire families. Soon his wife joined him in writing the visas. For over six weeks, he would spent up to 20 hours a day, every day, writing visas to get these people out.
He was given orders to transfer to Moscow, and so he picked up the pace. While he was in the train station, he was passing out visas to people left and right. Even on the train he continued to feverishly sign visas, even throwing official signed Japanese government visa documents into the crowd, urging people to forge his signature. The train was pulling out, Sugihara bowed deeply to the people, and said to them “Please forgive me. I cannot write anymore. I wish you the best.” Someone in the crowd shouted back: “Sugihara! We’ll never forget you. I’ll surely see you again!”
It is estimated that Sugihara’s visas saved up to 6000 Jews. Most made it to Japan, then later to spend the remainder of the war in Shanghai China. One man and his wife stood against abominable evil, disobeyed orders, fought to the last, and saved thousands.
In 1985 the nation of Israel gave Sugihara the “Righteous Among the Nations” award—that nation’s highest award to Gentiles who saved Jews during World War II.
He died peacefully in 1986 in Kamakura Japan.