In August 2000, Joseph Kempler was invited to Tokyo, Japan, to speak before educators and experts on the subject of the Holocaust. An unusual interview was set up with Yukiko Sugihara, the widow of Chiune Sugihara ( both now deceased). Although the Sugihara’s did not personally save Joseph or any of his family it was a momentous occasion for them to meet in person.
Consul Sugihara is best known for his heroic act of saving thousands of Polish Jews with Japanese visas during World War II. Some compare him to Oskar Schindler, a German Industrialist, who also saved thousands of Polish Jews. Schindler’s story is best told in the Steven Spielberg movie Schindler’s List.
Chinune Sugihara was sent to Kaunas, a temporary capital of Lithuania, to set up a Japanese consul. When the Soviets invaded Lithuania in 1940, many Polish Jews, who had emigrated there after the Germans attacked Poland, were told by the Soviets that they could refugee to the Dutch colonial islands (Curacao and Dutch Guiana, now Suriname) provided they get transit visas from Japan. In order to get to the Dutch colonial islands the refugees would have to pass through Japan. The visas were denied three times by the Japanese consul in Tokyo, however, Consul Sugihara and his wife Yukiko were compassionate people and the plight of the Polish Jews weighed heavily on their consciences. Despite his country’s decree, Chiune and Yukiko signed the visas, 300 a day for 3 weeks, that saved thousands of Jews. (You can read their story on the Jewish Virtual Library website.)
As many as 6000 refugees made their way to Japan, China and other countries, they are known as Sugihara Survivors.
- Japanese diplomat who saved Jews in WWII inspires Australian play (japandailypress.com)