The city government of Jerusalem honored a Japanese diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from the clutches of the Nazis, including the Shambhala and the entire student body of Yeshivas Mir.
Mayor Moshe Lion dedicated a neighborhood square to the memory of Chiune Sugihara, who is represented by his son Nobuki Sugihara, 72, who lives in Belgium.
Chiune Sugihara was serving as the Japanese vice-consul in Kovno, Lithuania in 1940, when thousands of Jews in the city were desperately trying to flee the Nazis, most of them refugees who had fled Nazi-occupied Poland.
Sugihara issued between 2,100 to 3,500 transit visas to Jewish families and individuals, which ultimately saved up to 10,000 Jews from near-certain deaths by enabling them to escape Europe through the Soviet Union to Japan and other countries.
As is well-known, the survivors included the Rabbanim and 300 talmidim of Yeshivas Mir who spent the war years in Shanghai and re-established Yeshivas Mir in Brooklyn after the war. (Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, z’tl, opened a branch of Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem in 1944). Those whose lives were saved by Sugihara’s transit visas included the Rosh Yeshivah, HaGaon HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitch, HaMashgiach HaGaon HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein, HaGaon HaRav Yechiel Michel Feinstein, and other Rabbanim who went on to be marbitz Torah in the US, Eretz Yisrael, and other locations.
Sugihara issued the visas despite the fact that he was warned by his superiors in Tokyo not to issue any visas without due process.
He ignored them and continued to issue the visas even at the railway station as he was leaving the country (as all foreign diplomats were told to leave Lithuania after it was annexed to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940).
In 1946, Sugihara was dismissed from the Japanese Foreign Service as a result of ignoring his superiors’ instructions while in Kovno and was forced to earn a living through odd jobs until the end of his life.
In his speech during the ceremony, Nobuki revealed that his father never imagined that so many recipients of the visas he issued would survive, estimating that there are now several hundred thousand descendants of the visa recipients.
Nobuki added that when his father was asked why he helped the Jews, he responded that he pitied them because “they had nowhere else to go, they had no home.”
Lion for his part said the Jewish community will be forever grateful to the heroic deed of Sugihara.
“This is the most emotional ceremony that I’ve ever participated in,” Lion said.
“It’s a reminder that it’s never possible to know the results of our deeds in the future. In the merit of one man, the chassid umos ha’olam, Chiune Sugihara, Jerusalem merited to boast Yeshivas Mir, which will soon mark the tenth yahrtzeit of the beloved Rosh Yeshivah HaGaon HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, z’tl. Sugihara did everything in his power and worked tirelessly to save Jews from the clutches of the Nazis, actions that cost him a not-so-simple personal price. The least that the city of Jerusalem can do for Sugihara is to commemorate his name as a sign of appreciation for his noble deeds,” Lion added.
Aside from Nobuki, the event which took place in the Ir Ganim neighborhood of Jerusalem was also attended by the Japanese Ambassador to Israel Koji Tomita, other public figures, and Holocaust survivors.