SUGIHARA, CHIUNE-SEMPO ° (1900–1985), Japanese diplomat in World War ii and Righteous Among the Nations. Sugihara served as consul-general of Japan in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, from the fall of 1939 until August 31, 1940, when, after Lithuania's annexation to the Soviet Union, the Soviet authorities ordered all foreign legations closed. Before that, in early August, Sugihara was approached by a delegation of Jewish refugees from Poland, headed by Dr. Zeraḥ *Warhaftig, with a request for Japanese transit visas. These, Warhaftig explained, were needed in order for his group of people to acquire Soviet transit visas on their way, via Japan, to the distant Carribean island of Curacao – in the mistaken belief that no end visa was required for this island, under control of the Dutch government-in-exile. Staying in Lithuania meant for the refugees the prospect of having the Soviet authorities force them back to Poland, presently under German occupation. Sugihara asked for a few days to consider the request in the light of instructions from his superiors not to issue visas on a mass scale as well as to make sure that refugees would not prolong their stay in Japan on their way to a final destination. Recalling that momentous event years after the war, Sugihara related the struggle in his mind as he tried to come to a decision. "I really had a difficult time, and for two whole nights was unable to sleep. I eventually decided to issue transit visas.… I could not allow these people to die, people who had come to me for help with death staring them in the eyes. Whatever punishment might be imposed upon me, I knew I had to follow my conscience." Having decided positively, on August 10, 1940, Sugihara began issuing Japanese transit visas to anyone requesting them, the numbers reaching several thousand in an operation that continued to the day of Sugihara's departure from Kaunas at the end August for a different assignment. The visa recipients, which included hundreds of yeshivah students (notably those of the Mir Yeshivah), left the area in time, before the German attack on the Soviet Union on June 21, 1941, and were thus saved – passing through Russia and Japan enroute to various destinations (Shanghai, the Philippines, Canada, and Palestine). Ironically, none of them headed for Curacao. In 1985, Yad Vashem awarded the aged Sugihara Chiune-Sempo the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
Yad Vashem Archives m31–2861; H. Levin, In Search of Sugihara (1996); M. Paldiel, The Path of the Righteous (1993), 252–55.
[Mordecai Paldiel (2nd ed.)]