British Columbia

Chiune Sugihara, Japanese WWII hero, honoured at Vancouver Maritime Museum

Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara saved more than 6,000 Jewish refugees during WWII. Now his story is being told through an exhibit at Vancouver’s Maritime Museum.

Japanese diplomat saved 6,000 Jewish refugees from Holocaust, many of whom moved to Vancouver and Seattle

Chiune Sugihara issued more than 2,000 visas that saved 6,000 European Jewish refugees from the Holocaust during World War II. (Sugihara)

The little-known heroism of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who issued more than 2,000 visas that saved at least 6,000 Jewish refugees from the Holocaust during World War II, is being honoured in Vancouver.

Sugihara's story is the focus of the new exhibit Invisible Threads: Life-Saving Sugihara Visas and the Journey to Vancouver at the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

"We discovered the story of Chiune Sugihara who issued a number of transit visas to Polish and Lithuanian Jewish refugees to help them escape from Eastern Europe," museum curator Duncan McLeod told the CBC.

"It was a dangerous decision for him to issue these visas, because it could have been seen as an aggressive stance against Germany."

Sugihara's actions were in direct violation of orders from Japanese authorities due to their alliance with Germany.

The Jewish refugees used the travel visas obtained through Sugihara to enter Japan from occupied Europe. From there, many boarded cruise ships that took them to Vancouver and Seattle, where they settled.

'One person can make a difference'

Among the refugees who made it to Vancouver were George Bluman's parents. Bluman, a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, has done his own research into Sugihara's history.

George Bluman's parents were given visas by Chiune Sugihara to escape occupied Europe during World War II.

"My parents obtained life-saving visas from Chiune Sugihara in 1940. The more I research the story, the more I'm amazed by Chiune Sugihara."

Bluman says both he and his parents had the opportunity to meet with Sugihara's descendants in Japan. For him, his life is a source of constant reflection on Sugihara's heroic actions.

"I think about it all the time. It shows how one person can make a difference."

The exhibit Invisible Threads: Life-Saving Sugihara Visas and the Journey to Vancouver runs from April 10 - July 1 at the Vancouver Maritime Museum.


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