British Columbia

UBC prof among thousands who owe their lives to WWII hero Chiune Sugihara, now remembered in Google doodle

Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who saved thousands of Jewish refugees during WWII, was a featured doodle on Google's homepage Monday. George Bluman, descendant of Holocaust survivors saved by Sugihara, shares his family's story on the anniversary of Sugihara's death.

Japan's 'Schindler' gave thousands of Jews — including George Bluman's parents — visas to escape the Nazis

A Google doodle created by Matthew Cruikshank honouring Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara was posted on the search engine's homepage on July 29. (Google)

Google is paying homage to a Second World War hero whom a Vancouver math professor has to thank for his life.

Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara was a featured doodle on the search engine's homepage Monday. He saved at least 6,000 Jewish refugees from the Holocaust by providing them with visas in direct violation of orders from Japanese authorities.

George Bluman's parents were among those saved and he joined host Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition to share that story on the anniversary of Sugihara's death in 1986.

"You could call Schindler the German Sugihara," said Bluman, referring to the German industrialist Oskar Schindler — the subject of Steven Spielberg's biopic Schindler's List — who is credited with saving 1,200 Jews during the Second World War. 

While stationed in Lithuania at the beginning of the war, Sugihara issued more than 2,000 transit visas to Polish and Lithuanian Jews, which allowed them to travel with their families. The visas helped Jews fleeing Eastern Europe to get into Japan. From there, many boarded ships that took them to North America.

Chiune Sugihara issued more than 2,000 visas that saved Jewish refugees during the Second World War. (Sugihara)

Bluman's Polish parents, Nathan and Susan Bluman, fled to Lithuania after Germany invaded Poland in 1939. 

Unable to go any further, they sought out Sugihara, who gave them visas that allowed them to travel through the Soviet Union and into Japan. From Japan, Bluman's parents were able to get on a boat leaving for Vancouver.

"That was the last boat that came to Vancouver, actually,' said Bluman, a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 shut down ship travel between Tokyo and North America.

Vancouver professor George Bluman holds a memoir written by his sister, Barbara Ruth. The Bluman children are descendants of Holocaust survivors who fled Poland thanks to visas issued by Chiune Sugihara. (Bridgette Watson/CBC )

Bluman's parents remained in Vancouver after the war. His father died in 1986, the same year as Sugihara, but before his death he sent a letter of thanks to the man who saved him.

Their widows met for the first time in Vancouver in 1994 when Sugihara's wife was on her way to Toronto for an event honouring her late husband.

Bluman was there, too.

"That was quite something, to meet the wife of a genius …" said Bluman. "I would not be here if it weren't for them, and my whole family, and all these other 40,000 people."

It is uncertain exactly how many descendants there are of the refugees Sugihara saved. Bluman said the number of people who owe their lives to him ranges between 40,000 to 200,000, depending on the source.

Sugihara is the only Japanese national to have been honoured by Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, an honour bestowed on non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

To hear the complete interview with George Bluman click on the audio link below:

George Bluman speaks with Stephen Quinn about the actions taken by Chiune Sugihara during the Second Wolrd War. 7:36

With files from The Early Edition

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