He saved thousands from the Nazis by writing their visas by hand. Here's his story.

You've heard of "Schindler's List," but have you heard of Sugihara's visas?

Oskar Schindler, the subject of the film "Schindler's List," is credited with saving around 1,200 Jews during World War II. But have you ever heard of this humble diplomat-turned-lightbulb-salesman who was a hero to an estimated 6,000?!


Image via Wikimedia Commons.

His name was Chiune Sugihara.

It was 1939. The brink of World War II. Germany had annexed Czechoslovakia and invaded Poland. Jewish refugees from Poland were flooding the surrounding countries. At that time, a third of Lithuania's urban population were Jews.

In 1940, Sugihara was the vice consul of the Japanese consulate in Lithuania. Hundreds were coming into Sugihara's office begging for visas that would give them passage to Japan and away from encroaching war, persecution, and almost certain capture ... and death.

He knew a way to help. Visas.

The rules to get a visa were strict. And Sugihara's bosses back in Tokyo told him to follow the strict rules they'd made. But if he followed the rules, the chances of getting visas to those in need went down.

Too far down.

Actually, it's more accurate to say that if Sugihara wasn't issuing the visas, the people's chances of getting the visas virtually disappeared. The Japanese embassy in Lithuania was ordered to close, all while Sugihara sought permission to approve the visas (as many as three times) and was denied permission from the foreign ministry in Japan.

So, after consulting with his family, Sugihara decided to ignore the rules and issue visas without permission:

"People in Tokyo were not united. I felt it silly to deal with them. ... 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."
— From "Hitler, Stalin and the Destruction of Poland: Explaining History"
by Nick Shepley

So, he set to writing.

Back then, that was how visas — especially these very special and more or less "illegal" visas — got made. By hand.

A copy of one of Sugihara's handwritten exit visas. Image via Huddyhuddy/Wikimedia Commons.

Pen stroke by pen stroke, he saved lives by giving thousands passage across the Soviet Union, through Japan, and onward.

These refugees weren't headed specifically to Japan but to Curaçao and Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) and had to pass through the Soviet Union and Japan to get there. From the end of July to the end of August, until his consulate in Lithuania was scheduled to close in early September (about a month!), Sugihara issued visas, completely ignoring the rules.

45 years after he signed the visas, Sugihara was asked why he did it. He liked to give two reasons: "They were human beings, and they needed help," he said. "I'm glad I found the strength to make the decision to give it to them."

He didn't stay involved in government after the war ended.

To support his family, he became an interpreter and translator and even did a stint as a door-to-door lightbulb salesman. He wound up managing an export company for the last 20 years of his life.

He was just an average working man ... with a huge, dramatic, bittersweet, and wonderful secret.

On a memorial built for Sugihara in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo, Sugihara is seated on a bench holding a visa.


Image via Joseph Brent/Flickr.

The quote that accompanies his statue is from the Talmud:

"He who saves one life, saves the entire world."

He doesn't have a movie, but wow. What a story. Score one for humanity!

More
True
Participant Media Denial
The Guardian / YouTube

Earlier this month, a beluga whale caught the world's attention by playing fetch with a rugby ball thrown by South African researchers off the waters of Norway.

The adorable video has been watched over 20 million times, promoting people across the globe to wonder how the whale became so comfortable around humans.

It's believed that the whale, known as Hvaldimir, was at some point, trained by the Russian military and was either released or escaped.

Keep Reading Show less
Planet
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / Katie Sturino

Plus-size women are in the majority. In America, 68% of women wear a size 14 or higher. Yet many plus-sized are ignored by the fashion industry. Plus-sized clothing is a $21 billion industry, however only one-fifth of clothing sales are plus-sized. On top of that, plus-sized women are often body shamed, further reinforcing that bigger body types are not mainstream despite the fact that it is common.

Plus-size fashion blogger Katie Sturino recently called out her body shamers. Sturino runs the blog, The 12ish Style, showing that plus-sized fashion isn't – and shouldn't be – limited to clothes that hide the body.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via Twitter / Soraya

There is a strange right-wing logic that suggests when minorities fight for equal rights it's somehow a threat to the rights already held by those in the majority or who hold power.

Like when the Black Lives Matter movement started, many on the right claimed that fighting for black people to be treated equally somehow meant that other people's lives were not as valuable, leading to the short-lived All Lives Matter movement.

This same "oppressed majority" logic is behind the new Straight Pride movement which made headlines in August after its march through the streets of Boston.

Keep Reading Show less
popular