Story of a courageous diplomat of humanity, Mr. Chiune Sugihara

Mrs. Yukiko Sugihara and Foreign Minister Yohei Kono together with Diet member Muneo Suzuki and Chargé d'Affaires a.i. of Lithuania and Israel recall Sugihara's achievements
Mrs. Yukiko Sugihara and Foreign Minister Yohei Kono together with Diet member Muneo Suzuki and Chargé d'Affaires a.i. of Lithuania and Israel recall Sugihara's achievements
Attendants unveiling the Plaque
Attendants unveiling the Plaque

About Chiune Sugihara

Renowned as "a courageous diplomat of humanity," Chiune Sugihara saved the lives of thousands during his tenure as Vice-Consul at the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas in Lithuania from 1939 to 1940. Under the extremely difficult situation where many Jews were persecuted by Nazis, Sugihara acted humanely in issuing transit visas to Japan to a great number of Jewish refugees. Even now, admiration for the courageous and humanitarian action taken by Sugihara transcends nationality and ethnicity.

The year 2000 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Chiune Sugihara, and on the 10th October, exactly the same day when new diplomatic relations started between Japan and the Republic of Lithuania in 1991, where Sugihara had served, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs unveiled a plaque at the Diplomatic Record Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs honoring the accomplishments of Sugihara in order to bequeath the legacy of Japan's diplomacy to future generations. The ceremony of unveiling was hosted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Yohei Kono in the presence of Mr. Sugihara's widow and others.

In addition, to commemorate the great feat of Chiune Sugihara, beginning FY2001, the "Chiune Sugihara Fellowship" will be established under the Japan Foundation with the aim of supporting young Israeli researchers engaged in Japanese studies in FY2001.

The Life of Chiune Sugihara

Commemorative Plaque
Commemorative Plaque

Chiune Sugihara was born on 1 January 1900 in Gifu Prefecture of the Chubu Region. As a student at Waseda University, Sugihara was sent as a Russian language trainee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to a language institute in Harbin, China, where he earned high grades. During his career at the Ministry, Sugihara worked as an expert in Russian affairs. While serving in the Manchurian Foreign Office, he was involved in negotiations with the Soviet Union on such matters as the Northern Manchurian Railroad. Subsequently, he served in the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japanese Legation in Finland before assuming the post of the Vice Consul at the newly established Japanese Consulate in Kaunas in August 1939.

Sugihara's memorabilia exhibited at the Diplomatic Record Office
Sugihara's memorabilia exhibited at the Diplomatic Record Office

In July 1940 when a new administration with close ties to the Soviet Union came to power in Lithuania and it became certain that the country would be annexed to the Soviet Union, many Jewish refugees, who had fled to Lithuania as a result of the partitioning of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in the previous year, came to the Japanese Consulate seeking transit visas. Although in December 1938 the Konoe Cabinet had adopted a policy of non-discrimination against Jews (at the Five Ministers' Conference - "Guidelines for Treatment of the Jews"), in the area of immigration control policies, the Government allowed the issuance of transit visas to Japan only for those applicants meeting the requirements normally necessary for the issuance of visas such as those who had completed immigration procedures to their final destination and possessed sufficient funds. Among the Jewish refugees who came to Vice-Consul Sugihara, there was no small number of applicants who could not fulfill these conditions. Still, considering that the lives of these Jews were threatened by Nazi persecution, Sugihara, acting out of humanitarian concern, issued visas to them in great numbers from 29 July until immediately prior to his departure from Lithuania on 4 September. More than 2,000 people were placed on the visa list alone. In those times, if the head of a household was granted a visa all family members listed in his passport were also granted entry, meaning that in fact the visas issued by Sugihara saved many thousands of Jewish lives. Furthermore, among those who received visas from Sugihara and came to Japan there were many who stayed in Japan longer than the period allowed for through their visas.

After the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas was closed as a result of Lithuania's annexation to the Soviet Union, Sugihara served at the Consulate General in Prague, the Consulate General in Königsberg and the Legation in Romania. "The Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Rays" was conferred upon him by the Japanese Government in 1944, before he finally returned to Japan in 1947 and left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The acts of humanity performed by the courageous Sugihara have been honored in a variety of ways. In 1969 Israeli Minister of Religious Affairs Zorach Warhaftig, who himself was one of the people to have his visa issued by Sugihara, directly bestowed a decoration upon him from the Israeli Government. In 1985, Sugihara became the first Japanese to be honored with the prize for being "Righteous Among the Nations (Yad Vashem Prize)," a prize bestowed by the Government of Israel to foreigners who have saved the lives of Jews.

In July 1986 Chiune Sugihara passed away. On 10 October 2000, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a commemorative plaque at the Diplomatic Record Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and an unveiling ceremony took place in the presence of the widow of Mr. Sugihara, Mrs. Yukiko Sugihara, and others.


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