Ceremony honors Japanese diplomat who saved thousands from Holocaust

One of the survivors, Nathan Lewin, who was saved by Sugihara as a child, recalled his family's story at the reception.

JAPANESE DIPLOMAT Sugihara Chiune.  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Chiune Sugihara, known affectionately as the "Japanese Schindler," was honored at a digital ceremony on Monday ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The reception, sponsored by the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) and B'nai B'rith International, focused on the efforts of Sugihara, who defied his own government’s orders by issuing travel visas to more than 6,000 Lithuanian Jews to escape the horrors of the Holocaust.
“At great risk to himself and his family, Sugihara dared to do what was right to save lives. He stood up when the world was largely silent," said CEO of B'nai B'rith International Dan Mariaschin. Like all rescuers, he never saw his actions as remarkable. As Sugihara’s actions teach, one person’s actions can make a difference.”
Sugihara was stationed as a diplomat in Lithuania until all foreign diplomats were requested to leave in the summer of 1940. In the haste to return to Japan, and the impending Holocaust, Sugihara issued visas to the Jewish refugees; it is thought that tens of thousands of Jews are alive today because of his quick action.
“It is estimated that 40,000 people are living today because of Sugihara. I am also a survivor. Another kind of survivor. I am alive today because my grandparents were saved during the Holocaust and I am alive today because of people who stood up to the darkness," said executive director of CAM Sacha Roytman Dratwa.
"What we learned today is that it is possible to stand up. The heroes of the past must teach us how to be better people.”
The Jewish refugees were then transported to the Dutch colony of Curacao, under the permissions of Sugihara who defied Japanese government orders to ensure the safety of thousands.
One of the survivors, Nathan Lewin, who was saved by Sugihara as a child, recalled his family's story at the reception.
Sugihara “opened the door for thousands of refugees to be able to find a free haven in countries across the world.” Lewin said. “It is both an honor and a blessing for me to be here today to share my admiration and thanks for an individual who embodied the role that our rabbis specified, saying you should not do a good deed with the expectation that you will be rewarded, but for the good deed itself. That is what Chiune Sugihara did.”
His daughter Alyza Lewin added "There are many people like me, descendants of the lucky ones, who experienced Sugihara’s humanity.
"Thanks to his moral compass, we deeply appreciate that living life is a blessing," she continued. “Today, Jews are being targeted on the basis of our ethnicity. The Jewish homeland – the Jewish nation-state of Israel – is the only nation-state today targeted as illegitimate. This is today’s contemporary form of antisemitism and we must unite to combat it.”
Ambassador Kanji Yamanouchi, Consul General of Japan In New York, who gave the keynote address, laid down a call to remember those who perished in the Holocaust and the heroic actions of the few who saved many.
“By the grace of Sugihara’s pen, thousands of lives were saved," said Ambassador Yamanouchi. “We must remember the Holocaust to honor those who perished and to achieve a better society. We know that no country is immune from the forces of racism and fascism. So, we have to do the right thing when necessary.
"Chiune Sugihara is one of those who did the right thing in the most difficult hour.”