Chiune Sugihara (January 1, 1900 – July 31, 1986) was a Japanese diplomat who saved thousands of Jews during World War II while serving as the consul of the Empire of Japan to Lithuania. In 1939 he become a vice-consul of the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania.
After the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was followed by German Invasion of Poland in 1939 and Soviet Union takeover of Lithuania in 1940, many Jewish refugees from Poland tried to acquire exit visas. Without the visas, it was dangerous to travel and impossible to find countries willing to issue them. Hundreds of refugees came to Japanese consulate, trying to get a visa to Japan.
The Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk had provided some of them with an official third destination to Cura?ao, a Caribbean island and Dutch colony that required no entry visa, or Dutch Guiana (which, upon independence, became Suriname). At the time, the Japanese government followed an officially neutral policy towards the Jews, but demanded that visas be issued only to those who had gone through appropriate immigration procedures and had enough funds.
Most of the refugees did not fulfill these criteria. Sugihara dutifully contacted the Japanese Foreign Ministry three times for instructions. Each time, the Ministry responded that anybody granted a visa should have a visa to a third destination to exit Japan, with no exceptions.
In July 29–31 Sugihara began to grant visas on his own initiative, after consulting with his wife. Many times he ignored the requirements and arranged the Jews with a 10-day visa to transit through Japan, in direct violation of his orders. Given his post and the culture of the Japanese Foreign Service, this was an extraordinary action without precedent. He spoke to Soviet officials who agreed to let the Jews travel through the country via the Trans-Siberian railway at five times the standard ticket price.
Sugihara continued to hand-write visas (reportedly spending 18–20 hours a day on them, producing a normal month's worth of visas each day) until September 4, when he had to leave his post before the consulate was closed. By that time he had granted thousands of visas to Jews, many of them heads of household who could take their families with them. According to witnesses, he was still writing visas while in transit in hotel and after boarding the train, throwing visas into the crowd of desperate refugees out the train's window even as the train pulled out.
In 1985 Chiune Sugihara was bestowed the honor of the Righteous Among the Nations by the Government of Israel.
45 years after the Soviet invasion of Lithuania, he was asked why he did it. Sugihara liked to give two reasons: one, that these refugees were human beings, and the other, that they simply needed help.
Sugihara Street in Kaunas and Vilnius(Lithuania) and the asteroid 25893 Sugihara are named after him. The Chiune Sugihara Memorial in the town of Yaotsu (his birthplace) was built by the people of the town in his honor. The building of Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, named Sugihara house and serves as museum.