The Chiune Sugihara Memorial Hall

About Chiune Sugihara

Sugihara's definition of 'humanity' as realizedby 'helping those in trouble' stemmedfrom his benevolent nature and Japanese sense of dignity.His thoughts and actions make us proud to be Japaneseand urge us to become individualsthat will continue serving othersin the midst of difficulties.

Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum Director


Early years

01Yaotsu-cho town where Sugihara was raised

Chiune was born in Yaotsu-cho


Sugihara was born into an average family in 1900 and grew up in an ordinary environment. He had dreams of becoming an English teacher and studied hard to achieve his goal, but financial difficulties arose and halted his studies. He redirected his efforts to passing the examination for exchange students which would gain him a position as a diplomat and allow him to study at the government's expense. He managed to pass the exam and was accepted as a trainee in Russian, thereby pointing his life in a new direction.

The Sugihara Family (Chiune: back row center).The Sugihara Family (Chiune: back row center).

02Chiune Sugihara’s Work

Harbin diplomat period


His potential abilities were recognized in Harbin and he began his promising career as a diplomat there. At about that time, Hitler had risen to power as the Nazi dictator in Europe and was endangering the lives of the Jewish people.

Sugihara during his tour at the Manchurian Foreign Office.Sugihara during his tour at the Manchurian Foreign Office.

Kaunas, Lithuania


Sugihara was sent to Kaunas in Lithuania to open a Japanese consulate there and to simultaneously gather information about the Soviet Union. This was about the time when Hitler's persecution of the Jews had intensified, leaving them with scant destinations for escape.

03Sugihara's Decision

Sugihara's Decision


In 1940, events precipitated and forced Sugihara to make a hard decision. Jews who had escaped from the Nazi regime assembled in front of the Japanese Consulate requesting transit visas to Japan to escape from Europe. Sugihara telegraphed the Foreign Ministry in Japan, asking,

Refugees requesting visas in front of the Consulate (1940)Refugees requesting visas in front of the Consulate (1940)

"May I issue visas?" In return, he received a disheartening reply with the order, "Do not issue visas to anyone who cannot follow proper procedures." Sugihara was torn between the choices of issuing the visas and saving Jewish lives and following orders which would allow him to protect his spotless career as a diplomat. He struggled for an answer before coming to a decision.

Period replica of the office where the life and death decision was made (Hall).Period replica of the office where the life and death decision was made (Hall).

04Return to Japan

Visa Issuance Epilogue


Upon his return to Japan in 1947, Sugihara was fired from the Foreign Ministry for issuing the visas against orders. A Jewish person who had been saved with one of his visas visited him in 1968. The man pulled out the tattered visa Sugihara had crafted and wept as he voiced his thanks.

With ex-Religious Party Minister Warhaftig (1960).With ex-Religious Party Minister Warhaftig (1960).

As a diplomat

Chiune's work and his fateful encounter with Jewish refugees.

In 1924 Sugihara, who had studied Russian at Harbin University in Manchuria, was appointed to the Japanese Consulate in Harbin as a Russian expert. Later he worked in the Manchurian foreign office, and then went back to Japan in 1935. In 1937 Chiune was appointed again, this time to the Japanese consulate in Helsinki, Finland. In 1939 he became a consul in the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania. The Nazis spread throughout Europe and persecution of Jews worsened. Some Jewish refugees fled temporarily to Lithuania. They were trying to find a way to get to Curacao, a Dutch island in the Caribbean, where no visa was required. They had to pass through Japan in order to get there, and so they found themselves at the gate of the Japanese consulate in Kaunas…

Chiune when he was on duty at the Foreign Office in Manchuria Chiune when he was on duty at the Foreign Office in Manchuria
Members of the North Manchurian railroad negotiations Chiune at the Foreign Office in Manchuria (second from left) (April 27, 1934 ) Members of the North Manchurian railroad negotiations Chiune at the Foreign Office in Manchuria (second from left) (April 27, 1934 )
Chiune was appointed Interpretation officer at the embassy in Moscow (on a trip to Kashima Shrine with his coworkers)When Chiune was appointed Interpretation officer at the embassy in Moscow (on a trip to Kashima Shrine with his coworkers)
'The Soviet Union national economy report'. a valuable paper written by Chiune at the age of 26. His excellent ability to inform and analyze drew the attention of the Foreign Ministry in Japan. "The Soviet Union national economy report". a valuable paper written by Chiune at the age of 26. His excellent ability to inform and analyze drew the attention of the Foreign Ministry in Japan.

Why did Sugihara take action?

While persecution of Jews kept escalating and the number of Jewish refugees increased, the number of countries willing to open their gates to them was limited. Moreover, as the war escalated countries in Southern and Western Europe also turned refugees away. On the morning of July 18th, 1940, Jewish refugees from German-occupied Poland gathered at the Japanese consulate in Kaunas right before it was closed down. They were seeking transit visas to Japan. The conditions for receiving a transit visa included money (to travel to and from Japan, and for the stay itself) and a visa to a final destination, which the refugees did not have. Sugihara had to consult the foreign ministry for instructions. The ministry ordered him to follow the rules and issue visas only to those who met the terms, but Sugihara ignored the orders and issued transit visas to everyone without any conditions at all.

The Japanese consulate in Kaunas, where Chiune was appointed consul. The Japanese consulate in Kaunas, where Chiune was appointed consul.

A view of Kaunas, the capital of Lithuania at the time the Japanese consulate was there. A view of Kaunas, the capital of Lithuania at the time the Japanese consulate was there.

Global Situation at the Time

What caused the refugees to flee Lithuania?

The Holocaust began with the 'Jewish Exclusion' act declared by Hitler in Germany in April 1933, followed by its promulgation to annexed Austria in March 1938, moving on in March 1939 to dissected Czechoslovakia and then crossing the borders to Poland. Jewish refugees fled along this course to escape the Holocaust until the German-Soviet Union treaty to prevent infiltration was concluded in March of 1939, by which time the German Nazi army had invaded the western half of Poland, while the Jews took flight towards the Vilnius region of Poland in the northeast facing the isolated Lithuanian border. The invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union occurred in the same time frame and the Soviet Union, which occupied the Eastern half of Poland, concluded the 'Vilnius Return Agreement' in October of 1939 wherein the Vilnius region, which had been retained by Poland since the First World War through a series of border skirmishes was relinquished, suggesting the reason for their flight there. The Jewish refugees who had fled from the western half of Poland occupied by the German Nazi Army to the northeastern Vilnius region of Poland were

caught up in the sudden transfer of the Soviet-held Vilnius region to Lithuania. About 15,000 Jewish refugees are believed to have traversed the Lithuanian border during the period. However, the neutral nation of Lithuania, which promised haven for those fleeing the Soviet territory of Poland, turned out to be the opposite. In accordance with the secret terms of the publicly announced 'Non-aggression Treaty' the Germans and Soviet Union concluded on August 23, 1939 right before

the invasion of Poland in anticipation of the annexation of the three Baltic States, their reach was already being extended. In October 1939, the Soviets entered into a Mutual Defense Agreement with the three Baltic States, allowing them to position their military within them and unilaterally broke the agreement the following year in June of 1940 while flooding them with soldiers and thereby making Lithuania a part of the Soviet Union.

Global Situation at the Time※①~⑥ on the map show the locations in order where Chiune Sugihara served as a diplomat in order.

Visa for Life
(Table of visas issued)

Why did Sugihara issue the visas?

To tell the truth, I thought about it all night.After struggling and agonizing,I concluded that humanity is paramount.Then, fearing nothing,I decided to issue those visas.

Then he issued the visas…Once Sugihara made up his mind,he started writing.

During the following month he spent all his time issuing as many transit visas to Japan as he could, in order to save as many lives as possible. He kept writing visas even after leaving the consulate to stay at a nearby hotel. At last, the day came for him to leave Lithuania. Sugihara continued writing visas for the Jewish refugees who followed him to the train station. He handed the last visa out through the carriage window, just before the train left the station… During that month, he had issued 2,139 "Visas for Life".

Refugee route

What route did the refugees use to escape?

Refugees who received transit visas for Japan rode the Trans-Siberian railroad across Siberia before boarding
at Vladivostok and landing at Tsuruga.
After disembarking there, they traveled in Japan, passing through.

Refugee route

As a member of humanity
(private paper from Sugihara's Golden Years)

Sugihara reflected on the time whenhe issued the visas in his later years.

What is presented here was written after 1978.
Only the sections from his lengthy notes leading up to and dealing with the issuance of the visas are excerpted here.

Years later, in his memoirs, Sugihara reflects on his decision:

"When I received the first response, I deliberated all night long until I could not think any longer. I knew that if I were to obey the Ministry and not issue the Japan transit visas to the refugees, it would be considered following orders and I would not be criticized. Any diplomat in my situation would likely have chosen to follow orders and refuse to issue the visas. After all, every diplomat is worried about not being promoted or being dismissed due to conduct or legal violations. That is why, quite honestly, when I received the response, I thought about it all night. Would it serve the national interest to follow orders thoughtlessly, recklessly, and irresponsibly, like a group of mercenaries? Would it serve the national interest to follow the Nazi's policy and earn the resentment of the Jewish people for all time? I could refuse to issue the visas based on in-complete travel documentation or public safety concerns, but would that be for our nation's benefit? Finally, after soul-searching, I concluded that humanity and generosity are above all things and, fearing nothing, I is-sued the visas risking my career. I still believe I was right."

Chiune Sugihara 1978

Righteous Diplomats

Whosoever saves a single life saves an entire universe

In a world of total moral collapse, there was a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values Just like Sugihara, these people were non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews without any financial gain. They saw them simply as human beings, and felt obligated to help them as such. The Israeli govern- ment awarded these people the honorary title "Righteous among the Nations". As of 2014, these men and women number 25,271.
Jan Zwartendijk
Acting Dutch Consul in Lithuania

Zwartendijk was a Philips' repre- sentative who took on the position of Acting Dutch Consul in Kaunas, Lithuania. He is- sued Jewish refugees quasi-visas to Curacao. Those "visas", together with the ones issued by Sugihara enabled the Jews to leave Lithuania and survive.

Ho Feng-Shan (1901-1997)
Chinese Consul-General in Vienna

After Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany in March 1938, Ho Feng-Shan issued 1,900 visas to Shanghai for Jews who wanted to flee. He did so in spite of his superior's orders. Some refugees reached Shanghai through Siberia; others used the visa to travel to other destinations.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes (1885-1954)
Portuguese Consul-General in Bordeaux, France

When Germany invaded Belgium and the Netherlands on May 10th, 1940, the Government of Portugal prohibited the entrance of refugees, especially Jewish refugees, to its territory. Sousa Mendes disobeyed his country's instructions and issued visas to tens of thousands of refugees including thousands of Jews. He also made sure they crossed the Spanish border post safely.

Charles Carl Lutz (1895-1975)
Swiss Vice-Consul in Budapest

Lutz was the first diplo- mat of a Neutral country to save Jews. He saved the lives of thousands of Jews by is- suing them Swiss safe-conduct documents and setting-up safe-houses for them.

Selahattin Ulkumen (1914-2003)
Turkish Consul in Rhodes

When the Germans began the deportation of Rhodes' 1,700 Jews to Auschwitz in late July 1944, Ulkumen demanded the release of Turkish citizens and their families. He managed to save the lives of 42 Jews.

Numbers of Righteous Among the Nations by countries


<Courtesy of Yad Vashem> As of January 1, 2014