2005 Sugihara Chiune and the Japanese Conscience

Source: The Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus Volume 3 | Issue 8 | Article ID 1584 | Aug 03, 2005
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus

Sugihara Chiune and the Japanese Conscience: Lest we forget

Roger Pulvers

Sixty years ago, during the evening of Aug. 14, 1945, Emperor Hirohito recorded the speech of surrender to be broadcast to the Japanese nation the next day at noon.

Aug. 15, 1945 found Sugihara Chiune, his wife, Yukiko, and their three little children in Romania, interned there by the Red Army. It was unclear what their fate would be. Japan had been officially at war with the Soviet Union, albeit for only a few days.

Who was Sugihara Chiune, and how did he come to be in Bucharest at the war's end? At a time when Japan is being branded in some quarters as the unrepentant perpetrator of cruel misdeeds during World War II and before, a look at the life of this man of conscience may serve to lighten this dark image. It may also be a guide to Japanese people living today: proof that an individual can make a difference, even in the most callous of times.

I was fortunate to have known Sugihara's eldest son, Hiroki, who was named after Hirota Koki, the prime minister in 1936 when Hiroki was born. The elder Sugihara was a diplomat who was posted to the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania, in November 1939. He was soon to be presented with a striking dilemma. "My father woke up one morning in late July, 1940, to see a great crowd of people milling outside the gate of the consulate," Hiroki told me in July 2000. "I remember staring down at them from the second-story window. They were Jews, and they had come to get exit visas from my father." ...

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