2008 Sugihara Chiune and the Visas to Save Lives

Source: The Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus Volume 6 | Issue 1 | Article ID 2640 | Jan 01, 2008
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus

Sugihara Chiune and the Visas to Save Lives:
Assessing the Efforts to Memorialize a Japanese Hero


Eldad Nakar


Introduction
After serving as a Japanese diplomat in Asia and Europe during the first half of the 20th century—helping negotiate with the Soviet Union to purchase the North Manchurian Railroad, saving thousands of Jews from the hands of the Nazis in Lithuania, and being interned in the Soviet Union for a year at the end of World War II—Sugihara Chiune was told by his superiors to resign from the Japanese Foreign Service in 1947.

Following his resignation, he worked for a trading company in Japan and subsequently in the Soviet Union, while keeping the memory of his past to himself. The postwar Japanese state too has subsequently kept his memory out of the official record. (The purchase of the Manchurian railroad, which is inscribed in the records, contains no mention of Sugihara.) One of the first stories about Sugihara to appear in the Japanese press was published in 1968, right after he was tracked down by Jehoshua Nishri, attaché at the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo and one of the beneficiaries of Sugihara’s acts. The national daily Asahi Shimbun reported that Israel had offered a full scholarship to Sugihara’s fourth son, Nobuki, to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and told at length how Sugihara had saved Jewish refugees during the war (Asahi Shimbun, August, 2, 1968). But such coverage was rare, and resulted in no initiative to commemorate Sugihara or his actions in Japan. Sugihara Chiune departed this world (July 31, 1986) for the most part in the way he came into it (January 1, 1900)—unknown to most of his countrymen. Much of what is known about him today in Japan was told after his death by his wife Yukiko, and his eldest son, Hiroki. Yukiko published a memoir in 1990. Choosing the title Rokusen nin no inochi no biza (Visas to save the lives of 6,000 people), she was determined that her late husband would be remembered in Japan for his acts to save Jews during World War II.

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