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Sugihara Chiune, Japan’s only righteous among the nations: myths and reality

Medzini, Meron; Technische Universität Berlin, Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung

Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung

Sugihara Chiune (1900–1986) was the only Japanese national recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations (or Righteous Gentile) by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. He won this honor in 1985 because, in the summer of 1940, he issued 2160 transit visas to Japan that enabled some 6000 Jews, mostly Polish Jewish refugees, to escape from Lithuania by traveling via the Trans-Siberian Railway to Japan. After staying there for several months, most of the refugees moved on to Shanghai where they lived during the war; all survived. Sugihara was the Vice Consul of Japan in Kaunas at that time. Some of the people helped by Sugihara learned of his exploits in the late 1960s. His story spread and many myths followed. It was said that, by issuing the visas, he risked his own life and that of his family; that he was dismissed from the Japanese Foreign Ministry; and that he saved six thousand Jews from the Holocaust. Above all, many believed that he acted out of admiration for Jews. Recent research indicates that the story and his motivations were far more complex than they appear and that Sugihara acted for many reasons, among them his desire to help people in distress. The following essay will seek to dispel some of the myths and above all ask the question: Did he deserve the title of Righteous Among the Nations and if so, why was it awarded to him?