“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Mark 12:37-39
Consider the story of Chiune Sugihara as a powerful example of loving your neighbor as yourself. This man saved as many as 6,000-10,000 Jews. He was a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania. When the Nazis began rounding up Jews, Sugihara risked his life to start issuing unlawful travel visas to Jews. He hand-wrote them 18 hrs a day. The day his consulate closed and he had to evacuate, witnesses claim he was STILL writing visas and throwing them from the train as he pulled away. He ended up saving 6,000-10,000 lives. The world didn’t know what he’d done until Israel honored him in 1985, the year before he died. The monument to him in Vilnius, Lithuania is pictured above.
He was often called “Sempo”, an alternative reading of the characters of his first name, as that was easier for Westerners to pronounce.
His wife, Yukiko, was also a part of this; she is often credited with suggesting the plan. The Sugihara family was held in a Soviet POW camp for 18 months until the end of the war; within a year of returning home, Sugihara was asked to resign – officially due to downsizing, but most likely because the government disagreed with his actions.
He didn’t simply grant visas – he granted visas against direct orders, after attempting three times to receive permission from the Japanese Foreign Ministry and being turned down each time. He did not “misread” orders; he was in direct violation of them, with the encouragement and support of his wife.
He was honored as Righteous Among the Nations in 1985, a year before he died in Kamakura; he and his descendants have also been granted permanent Israeli citizenship. He was also posthumously awarded the Life Saving Cross of Lithuania (1993); Commander’s Cross Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland (1996); and the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta (2007). Though not canonized, some Eastern Orthodox Christians recognize him as a saint.
Sugihara was born in Gifu on the first day of 1900, January 1st. He achieved top marks in his schooling; his father wanted him to become a physician, but Sugihara wished to pursue learning English. He deliberately failed the exam by writing only his name and then entered Waseda, where he majored in English. He joined the Foreign Ministry after graduation and worked in the Manchurian Foreign Office in Harbin (where he learned Russian and German; he also converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church during this time). He resigned his post in protest over how the Japanese government treated the local Chinese citizens. He eventually married Yukiko Kikuchi, who would suggest and encourage his acts in Lithuania; they had four sons together. Chiune Sugihara passed away July 31, 1986, at the age of 86. Until her own passing in 2008, Yukiko continued as an ambassador of his legacy.
It’s a tragedy that the Sugiharas aren’t household names. They are among the greatest heroes of WWII. Is it because they were from an Axis Power? Is it because they aren’t European? I don’t know. But it is a worthy subject for a movie.
He told an interviewer:
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 sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes, Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes. Also, I felt at that time, that the Japanese government did not have any uniform opinion in Tokyo. Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent.
People in Tokyo were not united. I felt it silly to deal with them. So, I made up my mind not to wait for their reply. I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong in saving many people’s lives. The spirit of humanity, philanthropy… neighborly friendship… with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation—and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage.
He died in nearly complete obscurity in Japan. His neighbors were shocked when people from all over, including Israeli diplomatic personnel, showed up at quiet little Mr. Sugihara’s funeral.
Tucked away in a corner in L.A.’s Little Tokyo is a life-sized statue of Chiune, seated on a bench and smiling gently as he holds out a visa.
Two days ago, September 1st, was the 81st anniversary of the beginning of WWII and September 2nd was the 75th anniversary of the Japanese surrender. So today is a good day to remember one who loved his neighbor as himself, Chiune Sugihara, who risked his own life to save 6,000-10,000 Jewish men, women, and children for Jesus’ sake.
“No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him is mine! Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine, bold I approach th’eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own. Amazing love, how can it be, that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!”
(5th verse of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “And Can It Be,” 1738)