Chiune-Sempo Sugihara (1900-1986)
Lithuania became a sovereign nation in the aftermath of WWI. In November, 1939 Chiune-Sempo Sugihara was sent to Kovno (Kaunas) to serve as Japan’s Consul. As part of his job, he was to monitor the maneuvers of the German Army, so that Japan would know in advance of the anticipated German attack on the Soviet Union.
Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940. All foreign diplomats were told to leave by the end of August. Thousands of refugees from Poland were trapped. The only way to avoid capture was to escape east and no one wanted (or could) issue visas. Refugees found out that Curacao (a Dutch Caribbean colony) required no entry visas.
Sugihara agreed to help by issuing transit visas allowing refugees a path out, including through Japan. However after several days the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo however rejected the proposal. Sugihara disobeyed the order and between July and August 1940 he issued between 2,000 to 3,500 visas for individuals and families. In 1946 Sugihara was dismissed from the Japanese Foreign Service. His understanding was that this was a consequence of his insubordination in Lithuania.
In 1984 Yad Vashem recognized Chiune-Sempo Sugihara as Righteous Among the Nations. In 1986 he died as a hero in Japan.
A current map of the Baltic
Sugihara Visa No. 2095 Issued to Wulfson Hersz
The majority of those receiving transit visas issued by Chiune Sugihara arrived in Japan. From there, they tried to get to the US, Australia, Canada and Palestine (rare). The majority ended up in Shanghai at the end of 1941, deported shortly before Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941). They were sent together with the Polish Tokyo based embassy, forced to shut down due to German pressure.
The passport of Wulfson Hersz is stamped by Sugihara, visa No. 2095 dated August 31, 1940. The visa was for going to Palestine (not the usual route of Japan via Siberia). The travel document issued to the family Kaunas, Lithuania on September 3rd.
The Hersz family exited Lithuania at Sumskas Railway station on September 22, staying in Moscow. On October 5th they left the Russian port city of Odessa, sailing directly to Turkey. The family most likely obtained a temporary traveling document from the British consulate in Turkey, going through Syria to end up in Palestine.
Detail of visa signed by Sugihara
August 30, 1940
View the Wulfson Hersz Visa
Large format images of the Wulfson Hersz Visa are available by clicking on the images below:
Page 1 – Front
Page 1 – Back
Page 2 – Front
Page 2 – Back