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Published on Jan 27, 2019
As we mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, #WeRemember the millions who perished, but also the brave individuals who risked their lives to rescue hundreds of Jews, among them 36 diplomats who couldn't turn a blind eye to the most horific injustices.
Japan: Chiune Sugihara “I may have to disobey the government, but if I don’t, I would be disobeying God.”- Chiune Sugihara Following the German attack on Poland on September 1, 1939, some 15,000 Jews fled Poland to Lithuania. Caught between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, they desperately sought ways to emigrate. Travelling westwards was no longer possible, and crossing the Soviet Union required proof that they had entry visas for their final destinations. Jan Zwartendijk, the Acting Dutch Consul, provided them with statements that Curacao – a Dutch colony – required no entry visas: now all they required in order to leave Lithuania were transit visas through Japan. Chiune Sugihara, served as Japan's consul in Kovno, Lithuania. In 1940, the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania, and all foreign diplomats were ordered to leave. As Sugihara was packing his belongings, a Jewish delegation arrived, and begged him to issue them transit visas to Japan, which would enable them to cross the Soviet Union. Sugihara cabled the foreign ministry in Tokyo for permission to deviate from the standing orders; however, troubled by the refugees' plight, he began issuing visas at his own initiative. Nine days later, the Japanese Foreign Ministry rejected any change in the conditions for issuing transit visas. Although many of the Jews did not fall within the required criteria, Sugihara went on, and issued visas to over 2,000 Jews. When Nazi Germany invaded Lithuania in June 1941, this small window of escape slammed shut, and almost all the Jews remaining in Lithuania were murdered. Chiune Sugihara was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1984.