In 1940’s Lithuania, a Japanese diplomat did the unthinkable: in direct defiance of orders, he signed over 6,000 travel visas for Jews, who were either refugees from German and Poland, or Lithuanian citizens, to travel to safety in Japan.
He put his own career, safety and the welfare of his family on the line.
To help people he didn’t have much in common with.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures” you may say. But according to Philip Zimbardo, Chiune was used to disobeying orders. He was also a thoughtful, cautious man.
Here’s Mr. Zimbardo’s perspective:
“For example, he (Chiune) did not follow his father’s instructions to become a doctor, pursuing language study and civil service instead; his first wife was not Japanese; and in the 1930s, Sugihara resigned from a prestigious civil service position to protest the Japanese military’s treatment of the Chinese during the occupation of Manchuria. These incidents suggest that Sugihara already possessed the internal strength and self-assurance necessary to be guided by his own moral compass in uncertain situations. We can speculate that Sugihara was more willing to assert his individual view than others around him who preferred to “go along to get along”.
Also, Sugihara was bound to two different codes: He was a sworn representative of the Japanese government, but he was raised in a rural Samurai family. Should he obey his government’s order to not help Jews (and, by extension, comply with his culture’s age-old moré not to bring shame on his family by disobeying authority)? Or should he follow the Samurai adage that haunted him, “Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him for refuge”? When the Japanese government denied repeated requests he made for permission to assist the refugees, Sugihara may have realized that these two codes of behavior were in conflict and that he faced a bright-line ethical test.” (Full original text)
My dad was a big fan of Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story”. And Robert Fulghum. I decided today, while I engage in the non-productive and non-useful (writing), I shall at least attempt to share stories you may not be aware of.
I thought Chiune’s story a good one to start the Heroes section with.