The Japanese Schindler

A Million Dollar Baby Waiting for a Producer
Published: 1997-01-01

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Recently our Japanese friend. Aiji Kimura (see, most recently, SR 37, November 1996), sent us a copy of the first issue of his newsletter, called (in English) Journal for Historical Review. We can’t read Japanese, and thus can’t decipher the newsletter—all the more frustrating because its first page includes a headline in English: “Rife with Discrepancies, the Story of Sugihara’s Heroism Is Deeply Flawed”—by Masanori Tabata,” with a picture of the subject, Chiune Sugihara. Thoughtfully enough, however, Mr. Kimura included the complete text of the English story referred to, a six-page report on the “Sugihara affair” published in The Japan Times Weekly (December 17, 1994).

If you're wondering who Chiune Sugihara is, you have some cause. He was at best an obscure figure in the history of the Second World War, and in the various reports on his activities that have appeared in the Western press, he has sometimes been identified as “Sempo Sugiwara” (from a variant reading of the Chinese characters that represent his name). But press reports there have been, because these days Sugihara is often described as the “Japanese Schindler”: in August 1940, while Japanese consul in Lithuania, he issued thousands of visas to Jews and others, many of them refugees from Poland, seeking to leave Lithuania for Japan. Sugihara saved thousands of lives, the story goes, defying his own, anti-Semitic, government; for his courageous actions, he was cashiered from the Japanese diplomatic corps and denied a pension.

For anyone who thought about the story, which has been uncritically told and retold in the Western media over the past decade or so, there has always been at least one obvious question. Sugihara issued the visas in August 1940, at a time when the “Holocaust” hadn’t begun yet, according to even the Exterminationists, and at a time when Lithuania was about to be occupied, not by the Germans, but by the USSR. Is Sugihara, blessed with some quiet Asian wisdom, supposed to have foreseen both the German invasion of nearly a year later and the supposed extermination of the Jews?

The articles in The Japan Times Weekly, published two years ago, provide an answer to this, as well as a thorough debunking of the Sugihara legend—all the more instructive in that the JTW articles don’t “deny the Holocaust.”

While it seems Sugihara did issue several thousand visas to Jews, the Japan Times, the Land of the Rising Sun’s leading English-language newspaper, forcefully argues that there is no evidence that Sugihara was acting against the orders of his government. Its writers point out that after his service in Lithuania, Sugihara went on to hold important posts in Europe: in Prague, in Koenigsberg, in Helsinki, and in Bucharest, until the war's end. If anything, the report argues. Sugihara's actions seem to have reflected official policy.

Why was Japan eager to facilitate Jewish emigration? Predictably, the editors of the report argue that the Japanese government was not anti-Semitic. More interestingly, the JTW study suggests that Sugihara’s actions were part of a policy aimed at cooperating with U.S. Jewish agencies, with an aim to using their influence to affect U.S. policy toward Japan. Indeed, there is evidence that the Japanese were seeking to organize an official Jewish haven in Manchuria. While this never came to pass, many Jews were admitted to Japanese-controlled Manchuria, and many thousands more found refuge in Shanghai.

Nor was Sugihara’s postwar retirement from the diplomatic corps evidence of any punishment for “rescuing” Jews: many diplomats were being retired in occupied Japan—particularly those, as the JTW report implies, who had been active in espionage and other covert operations against the USSR in Manchuria and elsewhere, as Sugihara had—and Sugihara received a pension!

Thus, a very temperate but quite convincing debunking of the “Japanese Schindler.” Yes. Sugihara issued the visas, but in furtherance of his government’s policies, not against them. Everything else, it seems, is lie or legend, serving the Holocaust myth, the vanity of Sugihara (now dead) and his family—and serving to paint the rest of the Japanese as unrighteous, non-Sugihara/Schindlers: in short, as ordinary Gentile anti-Semites. Such is the real import of the “righteous Gentile” myth, which, deriving from rabbinical lore, keeps alive age-old religious animosities by elevating a few supposedly philo-Semitic non-Jews at the expense of the allegedly hate-filled non-Jewish masses.

The Japan Times Weekly has done a real service by publishing these articles on the Sugihara story, including the intriguing news that a Jewish functionary got a hold of Sugihara’s diplomatic seal after he left Lithuania and used it to forge several thousand additional visas (we would like to think that the forger used this opportunity to play the “righteous Hebrew” by helping Christian Lithuanians escape from Stalin’s secret police, but—alas!—there’s no word on that). And from the Sugihara affair the Japan Times’ editors have drawn conclusions that arc proper not merely to this one story, but to the larger issues of the last world war. including the Holocaust. They write:

“The debunking of the Sugihara myth demonstrates that World War II was more complicated than a Manichaean struggle between good and evil, as wartime and postwar propaganda would have the world believe.

“If there is a moral to the story, it is that historians should base history on facts, journalists are expected to ask the hard questions, and mythmakers should limit their embellishments to ancient fictions.”


(In exchange for your contribution we’ll send you a photocopy of this provocative 6-page study.) [offer no longer valid; ed.]


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Author(s): Bradley R. Smith
Title: The Japanese Schindler, A Million Dollar Baby Waiting for a Producer
Sources: Smith's Report, no. 39, January 1997, pp. 3f.
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Published: 1997-01-01
First posted on CODOH: Oct. 2, 2015, 3:55 a.m.
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