In 1985, as Chiune Sempo Sugihara was quite ill, I was contacted by the family to help. I had heard how many of the Mir Yeshiva had survived in Shanghai because of Sugihara. I offered to do everything I could to help this giant of a man.
On January 31, the U.S. premiere of the movie titled Persona Non Grata will be shown in honor of Sugihara, who has become known as “the Japanese Schindler.”
In 1940, Sugihara was appointed deputy consul general from Japan to Lithuania. The Simon Wiesenthal Center estimates that Sugihara saved at least 10,000 Jews. The survivors were from German-occupied Western Poland, Russian-occupied Eastern Poland, and Lithuania. From July 18, 1940 until August 28, 1940 Sugihara began to grant visas on his own initiative at great sacrifice to himself and his family. He ignored the requirements and issued visas to the Jews. Many of the refugees made their way to Kobe, Japan where there was a Jewish community. Others made it to Japanese-held Shanghai. Sugihara worked 20-hour days producing a normal month’s work of visas each day. He was still writing visas while in transit after being replaced. As he was leaving, he said, “Please forgive me. I cannot write anymore. I wish you the best.” One of those saved exclaimed, “Sugihara, we’ll never forget you. I’ll surely see you again.”
The Jews never forget. In 1985, Israel named him to the Righteous Among the Nations. He joined Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler as one of those Righteous Gentiles who put their lives on the line for the Jewish people. His contribution to humanity is enormous. He saved the Mir Yeshiva. Descendants of those he saved number well over 40,000. Sugihara said, “You want to know about my motivation, don’t you? Well, it is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face-to-face, begging with tears in their eyes. He just cannot help but have sympathy with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes.”
After the war, he had a difficult life. The movie that honors Sugihara will first be shown on January 26 at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. No honor is too great for this incredible man. The world needs many more like Sugihara. His memory should be for a blessing.