According to his own conscience.
Which was against his country’s norms at the time.
A Man for All Seasons.
“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.”
Yes, There is the banality of evil.
And, Yes, he probably did pay for his life-saving kindness. He had a tough life, but the approximately 20,000 descendents of the individuals who he helped are glad that he did the right thing, in his own mind.
Others could not, and more importantly, did not do the same. But, it was a natural thing, FOR HIM. It’s called personality: Character AND Temperament, two sides of the same coin. You cannot separate them. It is a whole.
Most Americans know of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who saved more than 1,200 lives during the Holocaust by hiring Jews to work in his factories and fought Nazi efforts to remove them. But fewer know about Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat who disobeyed his government’s orders and issued visas that allowed an estimated 6,000 Jews to escape from Nazi-occupied territories via Japan.
Chiune Sugihara, Teacher Idealist, (杉原 千畝 Sugihara Chiune, 1 January 1900 – 31 July 1986) was a Japanese diplomat who served as Vice-Consul for the Empire of Japan in Lithuania. During World War II, he helped several thousand Jews leave the country by issuing transit visas to Jewish refugees so that they could travel to Japan. Most of the Jews who escaped were refugees from German-occupied Poland and residents of Lithuania. Sugihara wrote travel visas that facilitated the escape of more than 6,000 Jewish refugees to Japanese territory, risking his career and his family’s lives. [Wikipedia, revised]
Visas issued by Sugihara, who in 1940 became the Japanese consul general to Lithuania, an area where Polish Jewish refugees had relocated during World War II. As Nazis threatened to invade Lithuania, thousands of Jews surrounded the Japanese consulate and asked for visas to escape. Disobeying his bosses in Japan, Sugihara issued thousands. From July 31 to Aug. 28, 1940, Sugihara and his wife stayed up all night, writing visas.
The Japanese government closed the consulate, located in Kovno. But even as Sugihara’s train was about to leave the city, he kept writing visas from his open window. When the train began moving, he gave the visa stamp to a refugee to continue the job. The refugees typically followed a route that took them via train to Moscow, then via the trans-Siberian railroad to Vladivostok and on to Kobe, Japan. Most stayed in Kobe for a few months, then went to Shanghai, China, and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Sugihara was transferred to Prague, where he worked in 1941 and 1942, and then to Bucharest, where he worked from 1942 to 1944. When the Soviets invaded Romania, he and his family were taken to a prison camp for 18 months. They returned to Japan in 1946, and a year later, the foreign office told him to resign.
Sugihara settled in Fujisawa in Kanagawa prefecture. To support his family he took a series of menial jobs, at one point selling light bulbs door to door. He suffered a personal tragedy in 1947 when his youngest son died at the age of seven. He later began to work for an export company as General Manager of U.S. Military Post Exchange. Utilizing his command of the Russian language, Sugihara went on to work and live a low-key existence in the Soviet Union for sixteen years, while his family stayed in Japan.
Years later, his wife, Yukiko Sugihara, who died in 2008, speculated the forced resignation was because of the unauthorized visas.
Sugihara from the beginning was strong student. He had a flair for foreign languages and an interest/fascination in foreign cultures. However, his father pushed him to become a doctor, Sugihara’s passion was elsewhere, and he had courage to disobey his father, he did this by going into the exam for doctor training by writing his name, and not answering the exam questions, then coming back home without mentioning what he had done. His father did find out he flunked and was furious. Sugihara wanted to attend a progressive university and study English literature.
In whatever field they choose, Teachers consider people their highest priority, and they instinctively communicate personal concern and a willingness to become involved. Warmly outgoing, and perhaps the most expressive of all the types, Teachers are remarkably good with language, especially when communicating in speech, face to face. [Please Understand Me II]
His father refused to finance this wish of his son, so Sugihara worked odd jobs to do it himself, culminating in spotting a job in foreign services all expenses paid. (1919). Despite it being fiercely competitive with students applying he won the position and scholarship to (Manchuria) China. Chiune was a skilled linguist and expert negotiator. Chiune’s love for foreign cultures led him to speak six languages fluently. He negotiated the purchase of the Northern Manchuria Railroad from the USSR, and proved his negotiation skills, paying half the original asking price.
“While he taught Russian language at the Gakuin, Sugihara seems also to have had some involvement with the Japanese Consulate in Harbin. It was spring, and though there were not enough people to play baseball at the consulate, he managed to cobble together a team by inviting some employees of the South Manchurian Railroad to play with the consulate members. He called the team Ryoman: Ryo meaning consulate and man for the Manchurian Railway. At the tender age of twenty-two, Sugihara had achieved his childhood fantasy of becoming a teacher.”
He became an expert in Russian culture, language, marrying a Russian woman. He resigned his post because he could not bare that the Japanese treated the Chinese imhumanely, treating them as though they weren’t human, “I couldn’t bare that.’
In 1934 he divorced his Russian wife and returned to Japan. He met a Japanese woman back in Japan, she says he had very kind eyes, and his attitude toward women was not that of general Japanese men, he didn’t consider women a lower class. She said ‘he would talk to me like I was his equal’. His wife, Yukiko, and he both yearned to travel. They ended up being assigned to Helsinki embassy, Finland. Taking his family on picnics and outings he would also gather intelligence and information about German/Russian troops.
He is described as having an aura of kindness, he gave the 11yo boy money to see a film. “I am your uncle”. Visiting with a Jewish family he listened attentively to the horror stories within Poland, (where the Jewish family had escaped from), it moved him deeply.
After the War, Chiune Sugihara, who worked odd jobs after returning to Japan and later was employed by a trading company in Russia, worked in obscurity and never spoke of the visas. He never knew if anything came of them and survivors had no luck finding him. But in 1968, a survivor who had become an Israeli diplomat, Joshua Nishri, finally made contact. In 1985, a year before his death in Tokyo, Israel named Sugihara “Righteous Among the Nations,” a title given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
“There are so many people living today because he took the time and made the effort. It was not easy and it was not a matter of sitting down and saying, ‘Here, I’ll write you this,'” said Anne Akabori, an author who translated “Visas for Life,” Yukiko Sugihara’s memoir, and wrote “The Gift of Life,” an account of Chiune Sugihara’s life.
“Without him, many of the most accomplished minds of our world would not exist today. His legacy produced doctors, bankers, lawyers, authors, politicians, even the first Orthodox Jewish Rhodes Scholar,” said Richard Salomon, a board member of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, and son of one of Sugihara’s recipients of a visa.
Many refugees used their visas to travel across the Soviet Union to Vladivostok and then by boat to Kobe, Japan, where there was a Russian Jewish community. Tadeusz Romer, the Polish ambassador in Tokyo, organised help for them. From August 1940 to November 1941, he had managed to get transit visas in Japan, asylum visas to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Burma, immigration certificates to the British Mandate of Palestine, and immigrant visas to the United States and some Latin American countries for more than two thousand Polish-Lithuanian Jewish refugees, who arrived in Kobe, Japan, and the Shanghai Ghetto, China.
Teachers are highly sensitive to others, which is to say their intuition tends to be well developed. Certainly their insight into themselves and others is unparalleled. Without a doubt, they know what is going on inside themselves, and they can read other people with uncanny accuracy. Teachers also identify with others quite easily, and will actually find themselves picking up the characteristics, emotions, and beliefs of those around them. Because they slip almost unconsciously into other people’s skin in this way, Teachers feel closely connected with those around them, and thus show a sincere interest in the joys and problems of their employees, colleagues, students, clients, and loved ones. [Please Understand Me II]
“What I did as a diplomat who disobeyed his country’s orders while serving his government may have been wrong, but I could not, in good conscience, ignore the pleas of thousands of people who sought my help. Therefore, I conclude that I did the only right thing, as any decent human being would have done. In the end, history will be the true judge.” –– Chiune Sugihara
Persona Non Grata [a Japanese film, but much in English]