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Chiune Sugihara: Asian Menswear Spotlight Series



Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat considered to be a Holocaust hero. Being the first Japanese diplomat to be assigned in Lithuania, Sugihara granted visas to Japanese territories for thousands of Jews fleeing Europe.⁣⁣

⁣⁣Sugihara was born on January 1, 1900, in Kozuchi Town, Japan. He was a top student who earned honors through high school. His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps as a physician, but Sugihara had other plans. He deliberately failed a physician’s entrance exam by writing only his name on the test, and instead in 1918, he entered Waseda University and majored in English literature.⁣⁣

⁣⁣Sugihara passed the Foreign Ministry Scholarship exam in 1919. He also served in the Imperial Army from 1920 to 1922 as a second lieutenant for the 79th Infantry. He later resigned from the position to take the Foreign Ministry’s language qualifying exam where he passed the exam with merit. He was recruited by the Japanese Foreign Ministry for an assignment in China where he studied both Russian and German languages.⁣⁣

⁣⁣He was assigned to Lithuania in 1939 as a vice-consul of the Japanese Consulate. In 1940, refugees came to him with fake visas to Curaçao. Without initial clear instructions from Tokyo, he granted transit visas to refugees before closing his consulate in the fall of the same year. 
The actual number of Jews saved by what is now dubbed as the “Sugihara visa” is still in question today with some sources claiming it to be 2,200-6,000. 
Whatever the exact number is, what’s important is how Sugihara was able to save all those lives.⁣⁣

⁣⁣After he left Lithuania, he was transferred to Prague and then to Bucharest until after the war. Sugihara, along with his family, was arrested when Soviet troops entered Romania. They were released in 1946 and returned to Japan in 1947. He was asked to resign by the Foreign Ministry the same year and provided him with a small pension. He took menial jobs since then to support his family and later worked as a general manager for an export company.⁣⁣
⁣⁣Shortly before his death, Sugihara was declared “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel, in 1984.