In commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, B’nai B’rith International held a private event at its New York office. The program, “Sugihara: Being an Upstander in a Tumultuous World,” examined the courageous actions of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who signed transit visas in order to save thousands of Jews from extermination by the Nazis.
In 1939, Sugihara was sent to Kaunas, Lithuania, due to his fluency in Russian. The Japanese government tasked Sugihara with finding out the troop movements of Germany and the Soviet Union in the Baltic region. However, after arriving, Sugihara discovered the plight of Lithuanian and Polish Jews trying to flee the country. From July 31 to August 28, 1940, Sugihara risked his life and his family’s to provide 2,140 transit visas, which allowed Jews to escape through Russia to Japan. Even as he was on the train leaving Lithuania, Sugihara threw signed visas out the window, allowing even more Jews to survive. From Japan, many Jews escaped to various countries around the world.
Richard A. Salomon, whose father received visa #299, explored why Sugihara acted so heroically. Salomon’s father, Bernard Salomon, travelled from Poland to Lithuania, where he received a transit visa from Sugihara. His family was then allowed to leave Lithuania and travel to Vladivostok, Soviet Union, and then on to the Port of Tsuruga/Kobe in Japan. From Japan, Bernard and his family travelled to Shanghai, and then came to Calcutta, India, then to Bombay, ultimately settling in the United States.
“Consul General Sugihara was a point of light in a sea of darkness, who stood up when the world was largely silent. Like all rescuers and righteous souls, he did not view what he did, in saving thousands of lives, as anything remarkable. Everyone would do this, he believed, if in the same position. Of course, we know that this is not the case. As Sugihara's actions teach, one person certainly can make a difference,” Salomon said during the B’nai B’rith program, which was streamed live on Facebook.
Salomon doesn’t have many personal items from his father; however he wears a star sapphire ring his father acquired in India on his odyssey to freedom.
Salomon, founder and CEO of Vantage Point Consultants, is, among other distinctions, a member of the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center; the Advisory Board of the Visas for Life Foundation, which perpetuates Sugihara’s humanitarian legacy; and the Executive Committee of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy.
“B’nai B’rith has urged UNESCO— the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization—to fittingly recognize the role and legacy of Sugihara, to whom more than 40,000 people owe their life, and we also recently received in this room a delegation of senior Japanese provincial and other officials to this end,” B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin said at the program.
It took too long to tell the heroic story of Chiune Sugihara. Mariaschin also noted, “To recognize the good that is being done right now, it shouldn’t wait decades for people to discover. Sugihara’s memory is a memory we should honor.”
In 1984, Sugihara was recognized as Righteous Among Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel. A ceremony was held in Jerusalem in 1985. Sugihara died on July 31, 1986.
B’nai B’rith’s program preceded an official U.N. Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, which leaders of the organization also attended. B’nai B’rith played an active role in the United Nations’ adoption of Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005.
Check out the video of the full program below