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Mr Chiune Sugihara and his family

If you have time today, may I urge you to read this New York Times opinion piece? 

It’s by author and Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles David Wolpe. He writes of the moral courage of one man during a time when it was needed.

I will sketch his story briefly below, but the full article only takes a few minutes to read and may inspire you today.

His name was Chiune Sugihara. He was a Japanese diplomat who was sent to Lithuania in 1939 with his family.

It was there he was confronted with thousands of desperate Jews who were fleeing German-occupied Poland.

He sought permission from his embassy to issue visas to these refugees, not once, but three times.

Wolpe points out that the cable from K. Tanaka at the foreign ministry read:

“Concerning transit visas requested previously stop advise absolutely not to be issued any traveller not holding firm end visa with guaranteed departure ex japan stop no exceptions stop no further inquiries expected stop.”

Sugihara was faced with a choice — to defy his government or leave these people to their fate.

After a discussion with his wife, Yukiko, and his children, he decides to help. Knowing the damage it would cause to his career, Sugihara starts issuing visas.

Most of the world saw throngs of desperate foreigners. Sugihara saw human beings and he knew he could save them through prosaic but essential action: “A lot of it was handwriting work,” he said.

He issued as many visas as he could, writing well into the night to provide others with hope. According to the New York Times article, he issued as many visas in a day as he would in a month.

At least 6,000 visas were given to people to travel through Japan to other places. 

He was sacked from the foreign office when he returned. He worked at menial jobs. It wasn’t until 1968  that his contribution was recognised when a survivor found him.

Sugihara died in 1986. Nine years earlier he gave an interview and was asked why he did it: “I told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs it was a matter of humanity. I did not care if I lost my job. Anyone else would have done the same thing if they were in my place.”

Let’s hope so.

It is estimated that more than 40,000 people are alive today because of Sugihara’s decision.

Featured image by J W on Unsplash

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March 2019
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