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A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara, Hero of the Holocaust

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When Chiune Sugihara was growing up in Japan, he had never even met a Jewish person. There was no way Chiune could know that he would one day save the lives of thousands of Jews—and become a great hero to the Jewish people. Alison Leslie Gold interviewed Chiune’s wife, Yukiko, as well as other friends and family, in order to tell this story.

In 1940, at his consulate post in Kaunas, Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara was besieged by thousands of refugees desperate to flee Europe. They sought Japanese transit visas, which would allow them to escape via the Soviet Union. Vice Consul Sugihara and his wife, Yukiko, jointly agreed that they could not abandon so many innocent men, women, and children. For days, Sugihara remained fixed at his desk, tirelessly writing visas. It is estimated that he handwrote 6,000 visas, knowing that his actions would probably result in his dismissal from the Japanese embassy. During the war, Sugihara decided that the risk was acceptable even
if only one refugee’s life was saved. Sugihara lived by the code taught in Japanese schools–take care of others, and do not expect rewards for goodness. Years later, it is estimated that over forty thousand people, descendants of survivors who were saved by Sugihara visas, owe their lives to this courageous man. This fascinating biography reads like fast-paced fiction. Gold has ingeniously intertwined the stories of two Jewish families whose lives were touched by Sugihara. In the pages of this book, readers will find a hero who proves that one person can have a tremendous impact against evil. —Jackie Hechtkopf, Children’s Literature

Excerpt:

Because the temperature had dropped during the night, many
people who stood outside the Japanese Consolate had gotten chills,
and they were numb with fear and exhaustion. When the Japanese
consul stepped outside and stood in front of his gate asking for
attention, he did it so unobtrusively that it took a minute for his
presence to sink in. When it did, every eye was riveted on his face.
In a soft but authoritative voice, he announced that he would issue
visas to each and every one of the people in line, to the last man,
Watching him from behind the curtain, Yukiko heard him make his
statement to the crowd. The crowd acted stunned at first, then it
seemed like an electric shock jolted every person. They all surged
toward her husband, looking as if they might crush him with joy. She
felt a deep sense of gladness.
Strangers hugged each other. People kissed. Families and
friends squeezed and pounded each other with relief. Hands raised
up pointing to heaven. Some people couldn’t stop the tears and
collapsed against each other sobbing loudly. The crowd’s force
pushed Sugihara against the garage door. He held his hands up,
signaling that they back off.
The elated Jewish refugees did not realize that Sugihara was
disobeying orders from his superiors at the Foreign Ministry and in
the Japanese government. It was a secret. They had no idea he
was risking everything.

 

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