|Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara (Jews News ())|
Super heroes are amazing. Fighting villains, protecting the world, but something even more amazing to me, is when an everyday person becomes a hero. That's what Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara did. A hero is selfless, and sacrifices themselves for others, is brave, and goes against a power bigger than their own, and is humble, and doesn't do it for fame but out of the goodness of their heart; the Sugiharas fit this description perfectly.
During the Holocaust, Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara lived in Lithuania. Chiune was the deputy minister and Vice Consul for the empire of Japan and lived with his wife, Yukiko, and his children. His job was to discover German attack plans and troop movement and report back to the consulate in Tokyo. He had a steady, well paying job that he had worked extremely hard his whole life to get and was raising his four young kids with his beloved wife. What could possibly have made Chiune give this all up?
One day in 1939, Chiune looked outside and saw a crowd of Polish Jew lined up in front of his house. They had come to apply for visas. The Nazis had invaded Poland to round up the Jews, but the Jews couldn't leave because no countries would accept them. But, a loophole was found. Japan was willing to accept anyone who had a transit visa. The problem was, these were nearly impossible to come by, especially in the situation at hand. Chiune wrote to Tokyo asking for permission to give visas to the Jews applying. He was turned down. But, Chiune felt that his government was wrong and that the Jews should be helped. So, he decided to risk his life and job for others. Years later, when asked why he did it, he replied, "They were human beings and they needed help," a very simple statement, but a very powerful one.
Chiune and his wife Sugihara stayed up night after night handwriting visas. They would write three hundred visas a day, the same amount of visas that were usually issued in a month. Even after their hands were bloodied and cramped, they continued. When Japan caught wind of what was going on, they sent a letter to the Sugiharas, requesting for them to stop, or risk extreme punishment. Still, they continued. Finally, they and their children were deported back to Japan. Even as the train pulled away from the station bringing them to the airport, Chiune was writing visas and throwing them out the window. In the end, the Sugiharas issued 3,500 illegal visas allowing the Jews to escape from the Nazis. Since many visas were "family visas" and could get multiple people out, it is estimated that 6,000 Jews were saved. Their descendants today equal 40,000; all of whom owe their life to the Sugiharas.
|Memorial to the Sugiharas (Temple Emeth .org ())|
As soon as Chiune's family was deported, his entire family was put into squalid jail, that treated its prisoners like trash for three years. He lost his position in the government so, when he was released he had to work many low level jobs to support his family; his most recent one being a janitor. Chiune and Yukiko struggled thanklessly for many, many years. On October 10, 1984, the story was finally told, and the Yad Vashem, Holocaust museum in Israel awarded Chiune Sugihara the title of "Righteous Among the Nations." He died a year later.
I think one the things that made the Sugiharas such heroes is not just their act, but what happened after. They silently endured, never asking for help, or thanks, or fame for what they had done. It was out of the pure goodness of their hearts that they sacrificed everything they had for people they didn't even know. That is what makes them a hero to me.