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.”