It was 1939 when Chiune Sugihara was appointed Japanese vice consul in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas. As the Nazis stepped up their persecution of Jews during WWII, thousands of Jews fled from Poland to Lithuania, the Baltic country just to the north of Poland. Many hoped to escape Europe altogether but did not have the necessary visas. Visas to Japan would do, but Sugihara’s hands were tied by red tape. Could he find a way to help these desperate refugees?
Hitler had never tried to hide his hatred of the Jews, and it wasn’t long after his Nazi Party had come to power in Germany in 1933 that the persecution of the Jews got under way. In 1935 German Jews were stripped of their citizenship and civil rights and were forbidden to marry “Aryans.”
In November 1938 Hitler’s S.S. organized Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass. Synagogues and Jewish businesses were ransacked and put to the torch. That night saw the deaths of 91 Jews and the arrest and incarceration in concentration camps of some 30,000 others. And these events were just a foretaste of the horrors that were to come.