Sugihara Kamon (Family Crest)
Chiune Sugihara was born on a cold and auspicious day—January 1, 1900. His samurai heritage would influence his character and life’s path to do the right thing.
Sugihara was an outstanding student, and graduated from high school with honors. His father planned for him to become a doctor; however, he disliked the sight of blood. Chiune took the medical entrance exam in Korea, signed his name only, and purposefully failed the test. Because of this action, his Father’s obligation to him ended, and he would be responsible for his further education. At that time in Japanese history, an important trait for a son or a daughter was oya koko, showing respect for one’s parents. Sugihara faced a difficult decision, but knew his mind and needed to follow that path. Theodore Roosevelt is quoted:
In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do.
In 1918, Sugihara enrolled at Waseda University to study English Literature. While in college, he answered an ad issued by the Japanese foreign ministry seeking recruits. There were requirements, difficult tests to pass, and candidates usually studied for at least two years. With samurai determination and a few months to prepare, he developed a plan of action. He passed the tests which qualified him for scholarships. Through the scholarship, he studied and excelled at Russian language. This opened the door for him to serve as a diplomat, travel the world, and follow his heart.
While in Tokyo, Sugihara met Yukiko Kikuchi and they were married in 1936. In 1939, Sugihara became the vice-consul of the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania. As Hitler tightened the reins around Eastern Europe, time was running out for the Jewish peoples’ safety. By late July 1940, hundreds of Polish Jewish refugees came to Lithuania to avoid Nazi persecution. They came to the Japanese Consulate because they heard there might be a chance to obtain a transit visa. Although it was legal to persecute Jewish people, was it moral?
Sugihara faced the most difficult decision in his life. He asked permission to write the transit visas from the Japanese government three times; each time it was denied. Japanese tradition bound him to obedience, but he was samurai and taught to help those in need. The Sugihara family risked their lives and livelihood because of their compassion for their fellow man. From July 31to September 4, 1940, he tirelessly wrote 18 hours per day; as many as 200 transit visas to save the lives of Jewish refugees. During this time, the Soviet government insisted that he leave Kaunas, and the Japanese Foreign Ministry sent orders to close and vacate the embassy. He ignored both orders and continued writing until the Japanese Foreign Ministry wrote an urgent telegram demanding that he close the Consulate and depart for Berlin. It is estimated he wrote over 2,000 transit visas saving the lives of over 6,000 people. Sugihara did the right thing by saving the lives of the Jewish refugee. Sadly, he was forced to resign his position.
If you save the life of one person, it is as if you saved the entire world.
In 1984, Sugihara was recognized by Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations,” an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from annihilation by the Nazis. The year 2020 is “The Year of Chiune Sugihara” in Lithuania. It has been estimated as many as 100,000 people alive today are the descendants of the recipients of Sugihara visas.
Most importantly, Sugihara was a samurai warrior, yet he did not handle a gun or sword. He brought about change without going to battle. He was strategic; yet peaceful; decisive, yet compassionate; and determined yet gentle…”Do the right thing all the time.”
Do what is right, because it is right, and leave it alone.
~ Chiune Sugihara
TEDx Speaker | International Best-Selling Author | Life Coach
Lori Tsugawa Whaley is a motivational and inspirational speaker, international best selling author and life coach. Using her engaging, passionate, and captivating style, Lori leads her audience to examine their own dreams and goals.
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