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A Visit to Tokyo's Sempo Museum

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on June 17, 2019 14:37

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If you ever happen to find yourself in downtown Tokyo, try to drop by the Sempo Museum for a few moments to pay tribute to the modest and courageous Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler during the second World War.

source: SempoMuseum.com

Not far from Tokyo Station, on the second floor of a nondescript office building, is a modest museum dedicated to the memory of World War II-era Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, known as "Sempo."

As vice consul for the Japanese Empire in Kaunas, Lithuania in August 1940, he signed six thousand transit visas through Japanese territory to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, disobeying his official orders, for which he has been honored in Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Jews saved by Sugihara were able to survive the war in Kobe, Japan and Shanghai, then under Japanese occupation. Sugihara was reassigned to Konigsberg, Prague, and Bucharest serving Japan faithfully throughout WWII; however, after Romania surrendered, he was held prisoner by the Russians until 1946.

After his release, Sugihara was dismissed by the Japanese Foreign Ministry. His wife believed it was for disobeying orders, to save Jews in Lithuania. He had a series of jobs, even selling light bulbs door to door, moving to the Soviet Union to work as a trade representative (he knew Russian from his days as a diplomat). He stayed in Russia for sixteen years, unknown to the world.

In 1968, Joshua Nishri, an Israeli diplomat saved by Sugihara, tracked down Sempo and invited him to visit Israel. A park in Jerusalem was named after him. There is a Sugihara museum in Vilnus, Lithuania.   There are several memorials in Japan, as well as a statue in Los Angeles's "Little Tokyo" called "Chiune Sugihara Memorial, Hero of the Holocaust." He received the Order of Polonia and the Cross of Lithuania. He was featured in his wife's book Visas for Life in 1995 as well as the PBS documentary Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness in 2005. In September 2013, his life became a musical titled Sempo at Tokyo's National Theatre and starred rock-and-roller Kouji Kikkawa and AKB48’s  Haruka Katayama and Amina Sato. 

The Japanese government finally apologized to his family and posthumously awarded him the Sakura medal in 2014.

Sempo's own explanation for his actions can be found on his Wikipedia page:

"People in Tokyo were not united. I felt it silly to deal with them. So, I made up my mind not to wait for their reply. I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong in saving many people's lives...The spirit of humanity, philanthropy...neighborly friendship...with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation—and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage."

If you ever find yourself in downtown Tokyo, drop by the Sempo Museum to pay tribute to a modest and courageous man. The museum is open 11:00am - 5:00pm (closed  Mondays and Tuesdays), located at 2F Sagami Bld , 2-7-9 Yaesu, Chuo-ku, Tokyo (Telephone: 03-6265-1808). It also has an English website.

 

 

 

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on June 17, 2019 14:37

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Source: NYT

Milan's Holocaust memorial houses refugees, turning its back on the indifference that kills.

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