Magazine article Insight on the News

Sugihara's Longer List: A Japanese Envoy Bent the Rules in 1940 and Saved Thousands of Jews from the Nazi Holocaust

Magazine article Insight on the News

Sugihara's Longer List: A Japanese Envoy Bent the Rules in 1940 and Saved Thousands of Jews from the Nazi Holocaust

Article excerpt

A Japanese envoy bent the rules in 1940 and saved thousands of Jews from the Nazi Holocaust.

When NBC aired a commercial-free telecast of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List in February, millions of Americans again watched the dramatic transformation of a Nazi profiteer into a man risking his life to save 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust. Thanks to a thoroughly researched new book, many also may soon learn that Japan had its own Oskar Schindler -- a diplomat who bent the rules and provided lifesaving visas to Tokyo for 10,000 Jews. The story of Chiune Sugihara (pronounced Chee-YU-nay Su-gee-hara), who died in Japan in 1986, is as compelling and possibly even more heroic than that of Schindler.

In 1939, just after Germany and the Soviet Union had invaded Poland and started World War II, Japan opened a consulate in nearby Kovno, Lithuania, to scope out the situation and help determine where Japanese interests might lie. It sent Sugihara, a language expert in the foreign ministry, to serve as vice consul and spy on both Germany and the Soviet Union.

But while he was there, Sugihara became preoccupied with issuing visas to Japan for Jewish refugees. Jews had fled to Lithuania to escape Nazi Persecution in Poland but with the Nazis and Soviets allied and closing in, many were desperate to leave Lithuania for any safe haven that would admit them. When they heard rumors that a Japanese diplomat in Kovno was granting visas to anyone who applied, they formed long lines around the consulate.

According to Hillel Levine, author of the recently published biography In Search of Sugihara, the issuing of visas began normally enough. "The Japanese had a policy that anyone who had a destination point beyond Japan and had the money to support a short visit there could receive a transit visa through Japan," Levine explains to Insight. "When Sugihara began to issue visas, it was in keeping with longstanding policy.

"But as he saw more and more desperate Jews, and as he obtained his own information about what the Nazis were up to, he became more and more moved, and I believe he threw all caution to the wind. Sugihara began issuing visas to any threatened Jew who came along, and that was stretching the rules," says Levine.

One of the Jews for whom Sugihara stretched the rules was Lucille Camhi, who now lives on Long Island, NY. In 1940, 16-year-old Camhi and her 18-year-old sister recently had escaped Poland for Vilna, Lithuania. Their American relatives had secured visas for them to come to the United States but couldn't get the paperwork through the bureaucratic maze in the swamped American embassies and consulates. …

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