Diplomat war hero honoured

June 16, 2000

A Japanese cultural and study centre has opened in Lithuania, in honour of Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986), a Japanese diplomat who, during the second world war, saved more than 10,000 Lithuanian, Polish and German Jews from the Nazis.

Sugihara House is located in what was then the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, capital of Lithuania during the interwar years. Sugihara served as consul in 1939-40, and, after the Nazi takeover of Lithuania, he began issuing Japanese transit visas for Jews to escape through the Soviet Union to Japan, despite contravening Japan's pro-Nazi policy.

Eventually, Sugihara was obliged to leave Lithuania, but he issued visas up to the last moment - even throwing a final batch from the window of the train as it pulled out of Kaunas station.

Sugihara's offence against imperial policy did not go unnoticed. In 1947, although Japan was trying to rebuild its international image after the war, he was expelled from the Japanese diplomatic corps for his "disobedience". Although, in 1984, he was honoured by Israel as a "righteous Gentile", it was only in 1992 that Japan honoured his memory with a memorial.

The formal dedication of Sugihara House was attended by more than 100 Lithuanian academics and intellectuals, including university professor Mark Zingeris, whose mother perished in the Holocaust. "Sugihara looked at people's faces and saw persecuted human beings, not races or collectives," Professor Zingeris said.

Sugihara House has been financed by the Sugihara Visas for Life Foundation, a charity whose participants include the Japanese government and a group of Belgian scholars and business people. It is expected to form a valuable resource centre for the Japanese studies course at Vytautas Magnus University.

Details: http://www.ourpeak.com/ shofar/html/ shinjap2.html

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