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Monument unveiled to Japanese diplomatic couple who saved 1,000s of Jews fleeing Nazis

Chiune Sugihara (Photo courtesy of the Yaotsu Municipal Government, Gifu Prefecture)

NUMAZU, Shizuoka -- A monument to honor Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat who defied instruction from Tokyo and issued thousands of transit visas to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II, and his wife Yukiko -- a Numazu native --was unveiled at a park here on Nov. 1.

    Chiune Sugihara was the Japanese consul in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas in 1939-1940. In the weeks before the consulate was closed in September 1940, the Sugiharas decided that Chiune should issue transit visas to Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi-occupied Poland, allowing them to escape to a third country via Japan.

    Chiune spent over a month writing the visas, issuing 2,139 before he was forced to leave Kaunas after the Soviet Union had occupied Lithuania that summer. Accounts say he was still passing out the documents from the window of the train that would take him out of the country. According to Japan's Foreign Ministry, transit visas were issued to heads of households and applied to every family member listed in the recipient's passport, meaning the visas in fact saved thousands more people.

    The Nov. 1 unveiling ceremony in Numazu's Minatoguchi Park was attended by Lithuanian Ambassador Gediminas Varvuolis, an Israeli Embassy public relations officer, and other figures.

    (Video by Hiroshi Ishikawa, Numazu Bureau)

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