By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo
Tributes are planned this week in honor of former Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, whose acts of courage and defiance saved thousands of Polish Jews facing the Holocaust as Nazis began to occupy in Lithuania in 1941.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar, 14th District, has granted permission for an environmentally safe cleaning of the bronze and granite monument built in honor of Sugihara in Little Tokyo. The statue is located 192 S. Central Ave., and cleaning will begin at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 22.
On the following evening, Aug. 23, George Takei and fellow actor/activist Anne Marie Johnson will be joined by the Man/Kind Project and the Los Angeles TransChorus in presenting “HERO: Chiune Sugihara” at the Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills. Featured will be a dramatic reading by Elliot Gould, Greg Watanabe, Alan Rosenberg, and Emily Kuroda.
Music director/pianist Kae Matsumoto will perform a special rendition of Keith Emerson’s “Land of the Rising Sun” and Diane Warren’s “A Note to God.” Also performing will be Adi Argelazi, Rex Dean, and the L.A. TransChorus as well as a surprise vocalist.
Red carpet arrivals will begin at 7:15 p.m. on Friday followed by the program at 8 p.m. The Sugihara event is offered free of charge and will begin with Shabbat service officiated by Rabbi David Baron of the Temple of the Arts. Additional information is available at www.themankindproject.org/sugihara.
Elements of the Sugihara saga resonate today as the U.S. government grapples with the issue of immigrants seeking refuge and asylum at the southern border.
Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986) is credited with saving more than 2,000 Jewish refugees in the early days of World War II by issuing Japanese transit visas that allowed them to escape to the Far East.
Sugihara began his diplomatic career with the Japanese military government in Manchuria, where he was promoted to vice minister of foreign affairs. Troubled by the Japanese treatment of the Chinese, he resigned his post in 1934 and returned to Japan, where he met and married Yukiko Kikuchi.
The following year he was reassigned to the European section of the Foreign Ministry. In October 1939, Sugihara was instructed to open a consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania for the purpose of gathering information on German and Soviet troop movements along the border. Shortly after his arrival, he was faced with a wave of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi invasion of Poland, which had become a dangerous place for them.
Together with their children, walking day and night, the refugees reached the Japanese consulate in Kaunas and asked for visas. “They had risked their lives in order to reach this place, their bodies exhausted, their clothes torn and their faces tired,” according to a historical account.
For several weeks in late July and early August 1940, Sugihara issued visas at a furious pace, before his consulate was closed down by the Soviet authorities.
At the end of the war, he and his family were arrested by the Soviet military. They were held under benign conditions until their repatriation in 1947. When he returned to Japan, Sugihara was dismissed from the foreign service with a small pension. In the years after the war Sugihara never spoke of his actions in Kaunas, and it was not until 1968 that he was honored by those he had rescued.
In 1985, a year before his death, he was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.