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

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."