Lithuania to mark Year of the ‘Japanese Schindler’

Lithuania to mark Year of the ‘Japanese Schindler’

2020 will honour Chiune Sugihara, a diplomat who saved almost 6,000 people from the Nazis while serving as an official in Europe during the Shoah

Chiune Sugihara
Chiune Sugihara

Lithuania’s government has declared 2020 “the year of Chiune Sugihara”, a Japanese envoy who saved 6,000 Lithuanian Jews while serving as a diplomat in Europe during the Second World War.

The young Sugihara defied orders and issued thousands of visas over six weeks in 1940, helping Jewish refugees travel to Japan to escape the Holocaust.

After the war, he returned home and became a trader based in a quiet coastal town, never talking about what he had done. It was only shortly before he died in 1984 that his family found out, when Yad Vashem named him Righteous Among the Nations.

Now, 80 years after he defied Tokyo to issue “visas for life” to Jews who sought his help, the country to which he was posted is honouring his
heroic actions.

The official programme includes an exhibition of photographs in Lithuania’s parliament, plus concerts, conferences, films, postage stamps and a monument erected in Kaunas, the former capital, where Sugihara was posted in 1939.

Declassified records show that his posting was in part as a spy, since he was charged with gathering intelligence on Nazi intentions. He did not expect hundreds of refugees to flock to the consulate in June 1940 to seek his help.

He worked 18-hour days over a six-week period, writing out by hand 2,139 transit visas, a record only discovered years later in the archives of Japan’s foreign ministry.

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