A Righteous Among the Nations, Chiune Sugihara, is the hero of Sempo, a Japanese musical premiered in 2008 and revived a month ago.
Sugihara was the Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1940 when the Germans invaded Poland. Thousands of Jewish refugees fled then over the border to nearby Lithuania in order to escape the fate that was in store for them under Nazi rule.
When most countries refused their admittance, Sugihara was one of the few diplomats who granted them visas, despite objections of his government.
By doing so he saved the lives of about 6,000 Jews, among them Zerah Wahrhaftig who later became an Israeli government minister.
Sugihara was subsequently dismissed from the Foreign Ministry due to his disobedience – a fact later denied by the Japanese authorities.
The musical focuses on Sugihara’s tragic conflict of conscience between his duty to his superiors and his moral obligation of rescuing human lives.
“Sempo” is the erroneous pronunciation by the Jewish refugees of the Japanese characters for Chiune, Sugihara’s given name.
The play’s music is by celebrity singer- songwriter-lyricist-composer Miyuki Nakajima, a recipient of a Medal of Honor awarded by the Japanese government in 2009. Sugihara’s part was performed by Koji Kikkawa, a popular rock singer. The musical was performed at the New National Theater, one of Tokyo’s most prestigious opera venues.
A classical opera in modernist style on Sugihara by Toshi Ichiyanagi, one of Japan’s most highly regarded contemporary composers, was performed two years earlier, in 2006, in Yokohama. Its performance in Israel was rejected by the Israel Opera and the Israel Festival “due to budgetary reasons.”
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