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Chiune Sugihara Biography

Chiune Sugihara Biography

Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese government official who served as vice-consul for the Japanese Empire in Kaunas, Lithuania. During the Second World War, Sugihara helped some six thousand Jews flee Europe by issuing transit visas to them so that they could travel through Japanese territory, risking his job and the lives of his family. The fleeing Jews were refugees from German-occupied Western Poland and Soviet-occupied Eastern Poland, as well as residents of Lithuania. In 1985, the State of Israel honored Sugihara as one of the Righteous Among the Nations (Hebrew: חסידי אומות העולם) for his actions. He is the only Japanese national to have been so honored.

Sugihara told the refugees to call him “Sempo” – the Sino-Japanese reading of the Japanese characters of his given name – as it was easier for non-Japanese persons to pronounce.

Chiune Sugihara Age

He was 86 years old.

Chiune Sugihara Early life

Chiune Sugihara was born on 1 January 1900 (Meiji 33), in Mino, Gifu prefecture, to a middle-class father, Yoshimi Sugihara. When he was born, his father worked at a tax office in Kozuchi-town and his family lived in a borrowed temple, with the Buddhist temple Kyōsen-ji where he was born nearby.

Chiune Sugihara Parents

He was the second son among five boys and one girl. His father and family moved into the tax office within the branch of the Nagoya Tax Administration Office one after another. In 1903 (Meiji 36) his family moved to Asahi Village in Niu-gun, Fukui Prefecture. In 1904 (Meiji 37) they moved to Yokkaichi city Mie Prefecture. On 25 October 1905 (Meiji 38), they moved to Nakatsu Town, Ena-gun, Gifu Prefecture.

Chiune Sugihara Education

In 1906 (Meiji 39) on 2 April, Chiune entered Nakatsu Town Municipal Elementary School (now Nakatsugawa City Minami Elementary School in Gifu Prefecture). On 31 March 1907 (Meiji 40), he transferred to Kuwana Municipal Kuwana Elementary School in Mie Prefecture (currently Kuwana Municipal Nissin Elementary School). In December of that same year, he transferred to Nagoya Municipal Furuwatari Elementary School (now Nagoya Municipal Heiwa Elementary School). In 1912, he graduated with top honors from Furuwatari Elementary School and entered Aichi prefectural 5th secondary school (now Zuiryo high school), a combined junior and senior high school. His father wanted him to become a physician, but Chiune deliberately failed the entrance exam by writing only his name on the exam papers. Instead, he entered Waseda University in 1918 (Taishō 7) and majored in the English language. At that time, he entered Yuai Gakusha, the Christian fraternity that had been founded by Baptist pastor Harry Baxter Benninhof, to improve his English.

In 1919 (Taishō 8), he passed the Foreign Ministry Scholarship exam. From 1920 to 1922 (Taishō 9 to 11), Sugihara served in the Imperial Army as a second lieutenant with the 79th Infantry, stationed in Korea, then a Japanese colony. He resigned his commission in November 1922 and took the Foreign Ministry’s language qualifying exams the following year, passing the Russian exam with distinction. The Japanese Foreign Ministry recruited him and assigned him to Harbin, China, where he also studied the Russian and German languages and later became an expert on Russian affairs.

Chiune Sugihara Later life

Sugihara settled in Fujisawa in Kanagawa prefecture with his wife and three sons. 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, Haruki, died at the age of seven, shortly after their return to Japan. In 1949 they had one more son, Nobuki, who is the last son alive representing the Chiune Sugihara Family, residing in Belgium. 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.

In 1968, Yehoshua (alternatively spelled Jehoshua or Joshua) Nishi, an economic attaché to the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo and one of the Sugihara beneficiaries, finally located and contacted him. Nishi had been a Polish teen in the 1940s. The next year Sugihara visited Israel and was greeted by the Israeli government. Sugihara beneficiaries began to lobby for his recognition by Yad Vashem. In 1984, Yad Vashem recognized him as Righteous Among the Nations (Hebrew: חסידי אומות העולם‎, transit. Khasidei Umot ha-Olam). Sugihara was too ill to travel to Israel, so his wife and youngest son Nobuki accepted the honor on his behalf.

In 1985, 45 years after the Soviet invasion of Lithuania, he was asked his reasons for issuing visas to the Jews. Sugihara explained that the refugees were human beings and that they simply needed help.

Chiune Sugihara Family

  • Yukiko Sugihara (1914–2008)
    Wife. Poet and author of “Visas for 6,000 Lives”. The eldest daughter of the high school principal in Kagawa Prefecture, granddaughter of a Buddhist priest in Iwate Prefecture. Well versed in German. Member of Kanagawa Prefecture Poetry Committee and Selection Committee for Asahi Shimbun’s Kadan poetry section. Author of Poetry Anthology: White Nights and other.
  • Hiroki Sugihara (1936–2001)
    Eldest son. Studied in California upon graduating from Shonan High School in Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. Translated his mother’s book “Visas for Life” into English.
  • Chiaki Sugihara (1938–2010)
    Second son. Born in Helsinki. Studied in California.
  • Haruki Sugihara (1940–1947)
    Third son. He was born in Kaunas. Died at the age of 7 of leukemia.
  • Nobuki Sugihara (1949–)
    Fourth son. Attended Hebrew University in Israel in 1968 at the invitation of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Jewish Fund. Represents the Sugihara family as the only surviving son of Chiune. Since his attendance at the award ceremony of the Sugihara Righteous Forest in the outskirt of Jerusalem on behalf of Chiune in 1985, Nobuki has been actively attending Chiune-related events around the world as the family’s spokesperson. Nobuki also heads NPO Sugihara, registered in Belgium, in order to promote peace in the Middle East.
  • Grandchildren: Chiune Sugihara has 9 grandchildren (8 still alive) and 7 great-grandchildren.

Chiune Sugihara Google Doodle

Google Doodle ran a special feature on Monday honoring Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania when World War II broke out, who wrote thousands of visas for Jews to flee to Japan and escape the horrors of the Holocaust.

Sugihara served as a vice-consul at the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1939, as he watched Jews who fled Poland flow into the USSR-ruled country, seeking to escape even further the incoming threat of Nazi Germany.

Coming out with a plan to help the Jews, Sugihara would sign visas for Jews to travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway through the Soviet Union, then into Japan and finally find a safe haven in the Dutch colony of Curacao in the Caribbean.

However, contacting his superiors at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, his request was denied three times to grant visas for Jews to pass through the country.

In a bold move and contrary to his country’s position, Sugihara wrote at least 4,500 visas by hand in just over six weeks, to the point where his wife had to massage his calloused hand every night so he could sleep before waking up and writing more visas.