75th anniversary of “Visas for life” from Japanese students’ perspectives

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In front of the new plaque at platform of Kaunas railway station

 

Same place, same date after 75 years

Chiune Sugihara is famous for “Visas for life”. When his act is described, it is inevitable to refer to one scenario at the Kaunas station.

While international train heading to Berlin was leaving from Kaunas station, Chiune Sugihara wanted to remain in the platform as long as possible and wrote visas as much as he could. “Forgive me, everybody. I couldn’t write it anymore. I wish your good luck…”. He regretted that he couldn’t issue visas for every people begging for help. Then he apologized. Chasing the train which is started to move, Jewish people shout for Sugihara. “Sugihara. We won’t forget what you did to us. See you once again. 28 years later after tearful good-bye, They accomplished to meet again.

Once he made a decision upon issue visa, he continued to write visas at Japanese consul all day and all night long with slight rest. Even though Soviet Union dictates retrieval from Lithuania under occupation, he changed a place then continued to issue visas. At hotel Metropolis or at the platform of Kaunas station to the end. Eventually with more than 2000 visas, 6000 lives are saved.

The date Sugihara left from Lithuania is September 4th,1940. 75 years later, at same date and same place, commemoration events took place.

 

A variety of people commemorated it

On September 4th,2015, a lot of events cerebrating 75th anniversary of “Visas for life” were organized. For instance, unveiling ceremony for new commemorative plaques in front of the Metropolis Hotel and at Kaunas station, presentation of three documentary films related to Sugihara and speeches by Sugihara survivor,Mrs. Nina Admoni from Israel, and Mr. Marcel Weyland from Australia, at Sugihara House.

Participants of those events are around one hundred people, including Japanese Ambassador Mr.Toyoei Shigeeda and Lithuanian administration officials like Mr.Vytautas Landsbergis, first head of state of Lithuania after the restoration of independence. It is not widely well-known that some Japanese students have participated in this event. One is Japanese students who study in Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas as exchange students. The other is students of Waseda University in Tokyo who belong to “Chiune Bridging Project”.

 

Precious “encounter” in Lithuania 

Lithuania is not familiar with Japanese as a place of study. Chiune Sugihara could be a big pipe connecting Japan and Lithuania. What’s the comment of students who chose to study in Kaunas, Lithuania.

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Students surrounding Mr. Marcel Weyland with smile

 

 

Male student studying at Vytautas Magnus University from Akita

It’s huge honor to study in Kaunas,Lithuania and participate in such a memorable events.

Participating in this ceremony, I re-affirmed that “Chiune Sugihara was here”. 75 years has passed since Sugihara left from Kaunas. However, we can still see something related with him and his credit are still admired. It represents that his brave act still move so much people’s heart and mind.

Two survivors described the history as it was by starting from their personal memories. Their speeches told us tragic and fearful situation at that time, hope and joyful they found out under devastating circumstance and deep gratitude to what Sugihara did.

It is said that Sugihara saved lives of 6000 people. It couldn’t be achieved by himself. Next to him, there was a lot of people who supported him like Dutch diplomat Jan Zwartendijk and, needless to say, his family.I can say that it was miracle. Yet his decision located in the center of that miracle rescue. Without him, 6000 of lives couldn’t have been rescued. I sincerely proud of him and would like to be a person like him.

 

Female student studying at Vytautas Magnas University from Osaka

Participation to the ceremony makes me feel the possibility of an encounter. Sugihara survivors told us how harsh situation they experienced and how importance freedom is. Moreover, they explained eagerly to us their current situation surrounded by family and their feeling about own long life. Looking at how they talked about their story, I noticed the importance of “an encounter” with Sugihara from their perspectives. Even though Sugihara and Jewish people might talk with each other in a few minutes, that short-time encounter changed their whole fate.

I hope that many people firstly get to know about Sugihara then extent their interest to other many people who tried to save Jewish people’ lives. Much appreciate that I encountered with those Sugihara survivors.

 

Young generation who shares “Chiune Sugihara”

“Chiune Bridging Project” is the society rooted in Waseda University for the purpose of proliferating the credit of Chiune Sugihara. They study about history of Chiune Sugihara and the Holocaust, then visited to Lithuania and Poland annually. One of the activities is guide volunteering at Sugihara house in Kaunas. How those students who have strong tie with him feel at the ceremony.

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All student participants at Sugihara House in Kaunas

 

 

Male student of Waseda University,3rd Grade, “Chiune Bridging project”

I was delightful that I could attend special ceremony not only as the chief of Chiune Bridging Project” but also as one human admiring Chiune Sugihara. Mr. Marcel Weyland from Australia told his pleasant life surrounded by 21 grandchildren. Mrs. Nina Admoni from Israel showed gratitude toward Chiune Sugihara, saying “Without you, I couldn’t have told my story to you”.

I vividly noticed that it is Sugihara’s brave decision that changed a destinies of Jewish people and saved lives of theirselves, family members, descendants. Considering the result, enormous lives are eventually preserved. 

The plaques at Metropolis and Kaunas station says, “Chiune Sugihara continued to issue visas”. This story is something that I have to share with somebody not only such an anniversary period but also every time as long as the society which disregards human lives continue to exist. We would like to play a part of evangelist of his credit.

 

Male student of Waseda University, 2nd Grade, “Chiune Bridging project”

Chiune Sugihara made a maximum effort to issue visas as much as possible to the time of leaving from Kaunas station. When I saw that urgent situation on TV drama or read it by book, I was moved from the bottom of my heart and I couldn’t avoid shedding tears of touching.

At the ceremony, I had a chance to hear the story of two survivors who saved by Sugihara’s visas. “If he hadn’t decided to issue visas, I couldn’t have been here, my child nor grandchild”, man from Australia has said. This statement he said in the end of speech is describing the gratefulness of Sughara’s credit in a summarized way. I’m sure I’m not able to forget the warmness of their hands that I felt when I shook hands with them.

This ceremony gave me the impression, what a long period 75 years are. Some people afraid that mistakes of history behind heroic acts might be put away into the past page of history. As long as Sugihara survivors and their descendants continue to live, furthermore, as long as two newly – installed plaques in Kaunas make people memorize and notice the situation Sugihara has experienced, humanitarian sprit which Sugihara embodied is everlasting.

 

Male student of Waseda University, 2nd Grade, “Chiune Bridging project”

I participated in great ceremony which many of famous person participated as well. Hopefully I was able to hear the story of those who has helped by Sugihara’s visas. Their speech was a full of wit, interesting, precious. I was indeed moved after I heard the story.

Participation of this ceremony leaded to huge motivation of my involvement in Chiune Bridging Project. I wish the credit of Chiune Sugihara and his spirit would spread to more and more.

 

Male student of Waseda University, 2nd Grade, “Chiune Bridging project”

Through some events related to Sugihara, I feel huge difference between feelings toward him in Japan and one in Lithuania. Lithuanian people might learn and think a lot about him rather than Japanese do. Perhaps we Japanese didn’t face sincerely what he did or the country “Japan” itself. I should learn more.

Hearing the actual stories of survivors from them was so meaningful and worth visiting.As a Japanese, as juniors of him in Waseda University, we have a duty to face what Sugihara did and inherit it.

 

Male student of Waseda University, 1st Grade, “Chiune Bridging project”

Even though I respected what Chiune Sugihara did, I didn’t realized it completely until I met with the survivors of his visas face to face and heard real stories from them. Their stories encouraged me to imagine situation at that time rather than books, films and other story about Sugihara. I was able to guess his act and feelings clearly. At the same time, what makes me moved is that his decision passed baton of the life to coming generation.

I memorized one quote from Talmud at the bottom of my heart.It says, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world”. He embodied this quote under severe time. I noticed that Sugihara was the splendid man even in the world history.

 

Male student of Waseda University, 1st Grade, “Chiune Bridging project”

Each words Sugihara survivors uttered told a lot than I read in books. Their smile, which they showed when I took a photo with them, was so impressive for me.

It’s shame but once I didn’t nothing to the person endangered. I didn’t act because I thought somebody else, more suitable person than me, could do. It was not so easy to try to save single life. On the other hand, Sugihara made a decision to save 6000 lives. I couldn’t imagine how hard anguish he experienced.

I saw smiles of people saved by Sugihara visas there. It was precious opportunity that I can feel dignity of the life and saving someone’s life. As one of “Chiune Bridging Project” members, recalling this experience, I’d like to convey his spirit to others.

 

Male student of Waseda University, 1st Grade, “Chiune Bridging project”

Sugihara survivors’ storytelling gave me vivid impression and fearfulness of war situation. Under such a urgent situation, Sugihara eventually didn’t obey the dictation of ministry but obey his own will and decided to save lives of Jewish people. As Japanese I’m so proud of his braveness. Since I met with people saved by him and visited actual place where he issued visas, I could think over his circumstance and so moved.

Even though 75 years has passed since he issued visas, there still remain war, conflicts, rational discrimination, persecution in the world. I strongly believed that we young generation must learn Sahara’s cosmopolitan spirit.

 

Author: Yasufumi Nakashima

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