Righteous Among the Nations

By Ken Chapman
Ken Chapman & Associates, Inc.
One morning in late July of 1940, Japanese Consul General, Chiune Sugihara, awakened to find a throng of Jewish refugees outside the gate of the Japanese Consulate in Lithuania. Most of them had fled from Poland, barely escaping the grasp of the Nazis during their invasion of that country. But once again with the Nazis advancing, they were trapped.
On that morning, they were seeking the help of Sugihara because word had spread among them that there was still one way out of Lithuania. They could travel through the Soviet Union into Japan and on to freedom in the Caribbean. The only thing they lacked was transit visas from the Japanese Government.
Sugihara, a forty-year-old diplomat with a promising career, immediately wired Tokyo to obtain permission to write the visas, but his government refused to grant it. He wired them again, and again they refused. He tried a third time and was not only refused, but was told to stop inquiring. Sugihara faced a dilemma. On the one hand, he was a faithful Japanese taught from birth to respect and obey authority. If he disregarded his orders, his family would probably be disgraced and their lives would be in jeopardy. On the other hand, he was from a Samurai family, taught to help people in need. Further, he was also a Christian, having converted as a young man.
His choice was clear. For the next 29 days, he and his wife, Yukiko, spent every moment writing transit visas. Normally a consul might write 300 visas in a month. Sugihara wrote more than that many each day. He didn’t stop to eat, instead snacking on sandwiches as he wrote and he barely slept. On August 28, 1940, he was forced to close the consulate and depart for Tokyo. But still he refused to stop writing, even to the last second. As his train prepared to pull out of the station, he continued signing visas. With his train gaining speed as it left the station and when he could do no more, he tossed his consulates visa stamp to a refugee so it could be used in his absence.
For a few more years, Sugihara managed to stay in the diplomatic corps, but was eventually dismissed. His days in government leadership were over. Back in Japan, he found part-time work as an interpreter. Later his knowledge of Russian helped him land a job as a manager for an export company and he lived in relative obscurity.
Some people lead for a lifetime, others receive only a moment to show the way. Chiune Sugihara made the most of his brief opportunity. It is estimated that more than 6,000 people were saved from German concentration camps as a result of his leadership, the second largest number of Jews ever rescued from the Nazis. In 1985, Sugihara was awarded Israel’s highest honor, recognition as “Righteous Among the Nations.”
Chiune Sugihara made his leadership count. He did the right thing at the right time in the right way.

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For over 40 years Ken Chapman & Associates, Inc. has been making a measurable difference in the corporate cultures of American businesses and in the lives of their team members. KC&A’s value equation is “Committed to People, Profit, and More.”

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