Visas for 6,000 Lives
Columbus 21 Course 3 (Heisei 24) pg. 32-35
On the morning of July 17th, 1940, Sugihara Chiune was in his house in Kaunas, Lithuania. He looked outside and saw many people around his house. "Who are they?" asked his wife, Yukiko. "People from Poland. They're Jewish. They escaped from the Nazis and came to Lithuania," he answered.
They said to Sugihara, "Please give us visas for Japan. We want to go to Japan and then to a safe country. If we stay here, the Nazis will kill all of us."
"I must help these people," Sugihara thought.
The next day, there were more people around his house. He sent a telegram to the Foreign Ministry. He asked for permission to issue visas, but permission was refused. He tried again but received the same answer.
After 10 days, Sugihara finally decided to help them. He told Yukiko that he was going to issue visas to the people. Yukiko knew the risks but told him that she agreed with his decision. "I'll support you," she said.
On July 29th, he announced to the crowd around his house, "You will all get your visas!" There was a short silence, then a big cry of joy.
For the next 30 days, Sugihara wrote visas day and night. He saw each family and wrote their names by hand. He smiled and said, "The world is like a big wheel. We're all connected. We shouldn't fight each other. We should join hands. Take care and good luck!"
On August 27th, he received a telegram from the Ministry, "Close the office now and go to Berlin."
On September 4th, Sugihara and his family got on a train for Berlin. Some people followed them to the platform. He continued to write visas even as he got on the train. He handed them through the window. The bell rang and the train started to move. With tears in his eyes, Sugihara said, "I cannot write any more. Forgive me. I will pray for your safety." One of them cried, "Thank you, Mr. Sugihara. We will never forget you."
The war ended in 1945. Sugihara returned to Japan and started working as a trader. Years later, in August 1968, he received a phone call from the Israeli Embassy. It was from Mr. Nishri, an Israeli diplomat. Mr. Nishri met Sugihara and took out an old piece of paper. It was Sugihara's visa. "You won't remember me, but I have never forgotten you," he said
Sugihara issued 2,139 visas to Jewish people in Lithuania. His actions saved more than 6,000 lives in total.