Remembering Sugihara Chiune on the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

Nevin Thompson for Global Voices:

Monday, January 27, 2020, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, would have been a perfect time for the Japanese government to call attention to Sugihara Chiune.

However, little has been done so far in Japan little to officially recognize the date, nor had there been much attention paid to the proclamation by Lithuania.

The Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center held an event in Tokyo, but Prime Minister Abe Shinzo did not attend. A week earlier in January, Abe had met Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, but talks focused on bilateral trade rather than the legacy of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is located on what was once German-occupied Polish territory. On the anniversary on Monday, January 27, Abe made no remarks about Auschwitz.

Who is Sugihara Chiune? He was a Japanese diplomat who, against his superior’s instructions, issued over two thousand visas for Jews fleeing the Holocaust to transit through Kobe and to safety.

According to Jennifer Rankin for The Guardian:

Sent to Lithuania to gather intelligence, Sugihara had probably not bargained for the scores of refugees who arrived at his gates in 1940. After the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania on 15 June, refugees flocked to the modest two-storey Japanese consulate that was also home to Sugihara, his wife Yukiko, their two toddlers and a newborn. Many were Polish Jews, who had arrived only months earlier after the Soviet invasion of Poland. Now they were looking for a second escape.

Sugihara sought instructions from his foreign ministry in Tokyo. He was told not to issue visas to anyone without proper papers, ruling out almost everyone in the queue. Making another request to Tokyo, he was told not to ask again. He decided to issue visas anyway. Over six weeks in July and August, he worked 18-hour days, eventually writing out by hand 2,139 transit visas – a record only discovered years later in the archives of Japan’s foreign ministry.

The 2015 film, Persona Non Grata, dramatizes his life story. See the trailer below.