Knesset honors Japanese righteous gentiles who saved lives in Holocaust

Last week marked the International Holocaust Memorial Day.

 Knesset Member Zvi Hauser honors Japanese righteous gentiles who saved lives in Holocaust, 2022. (photo credit: KOBI KIVITI)
Knesset Member Zvi Hauser honors Japanese righteous gentiles who saved lives in Holocaust, 2022.
(photo credit: KOBI KIVITI)

Japanese citizens who took steps to save Jews fleeing Europe during the Holocaust were honored at a special virtual event of the Israel-Japan Friendship Group in the Knesset on Tuesday.

The event was initiated by MK Zvi Hauser (New Hope) and National Diet member Gen Nakatani, who head the friendship group in their respective parliaments, in honor of last week’s Holocaust Remembrance Day and marking 70 years of relations between Israel and Japan.

“The sparks of brotherhood between the Japanese and Jewish people were born in the darkest period of humanity and the history of the Jewish people,” Hauser said at the event. “It was sparks of light of individuals in the darkness that covered the surface. The Jewish people and Japanese are both ancient people. The two nations both have curiosity to understand the future and make it better. They both see themselves as active in making the world a better place.”

Hauser singled out Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who helped thousands of Jews flee Europe by issuing transit visas so that they could travel through Japanese territory. Lesser known is Prof. Setsuzo Kotsuji, who helped the refugees extend their stay in Japan from a few days on their permits to many months.

Kotsuji, who was the top scholar on Judaism in Japan, was tortured for refuting Nazi propaganda and saving some 300 yeshiva students from Lithuania, including Rabbi Pinchas Hirschsprung, who later became chief rabbi of Montreal, and Rabbi Dr. Avraham Mordechai Hershberg, who was the chief rabbi of Mexico for 25 years.

 Chiune  Sugihara with his wife Yukiko in his  office at the Japanese consulate in  Bucharest published in ‘Visas for Life:  The Remarkable Story of Chiune  & Yukiko Sugihara and the Rescue  of Thousands of Jews (credit: Holocaust Oral History Project: San Francisco,  California ) Chiune Sugihara with his wife Yukiko in his office at the Japanese consulate in Bucharest published in ‘Visas for Life: The Remarkable Story of Chiune & Yukiko Sugihara and the Rescue of Thousands of Jews (credit: Holocaust Oral History Project: San Francisco, California )

Kotsuji later became a Jew and is buried in Jerusalem.

Hauser, whose own mother was saved during the Holocaust by a Righteous Gentile in Europe, said Sugihara and Kotsuji “did not only save people, they saved generations.”

“The recognition given to Japanese citizens who saved Jews during the Holocaust is a symbolic step that strengthens relations between the two peoples,” Nakatani said.

The event was attended by other members of the National Diet, MKs Uri Maklev (UTJ) and Moshe Tur-Paz (Yesh Atid), Japanese Ambassador to Israel Mizushima Koichi, Israeli Ambassador to Japan Gilad Cohen and Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan.

“We cannot leave the chapter of Jewish-Japanese relations in the Holocaust to Consul Sugihara alone,” Dayan said. “We should do much more to reveal acts of heroism, which are under-researched and under-exhibited to the public. More education and recognition is necessary in this sacred endeavor.”