Story of 'Japanese Schindler' Showcased in N.Y. Expo

Japan and Nazi Germany may have been allies, but ordinary Japanese had nothing against Jews, say researchers who brought story to light.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

The story of the so-called "Japanese Schindler," who helped save as many as 10,000 Jews from the Nazis, will be featured in a short film screened Thursday at a Japanese tourism expo in New York.

The 10-minute video included in Japan Week, an event celebrating Japanese culture from the past 100 years, tells the story of Chiune Sugihara, a vice consul in Lithuania, who disregarded orders from Tokyo and issued travel visas to Jews fleeing Europe just before World War II broke out.

The role Sugihara in helping Jews make the long seaborne journey to Japan has been written about in the past, for example in a 1979 book called the "Fugu Plan" by Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, but the film brings to light lesser-known aspects of the story, according to the New York Times.

Tatsuo Osako, was an employee of an official Japanese tourism bureau during the war. As an escort on a ship from Vladivostok to the Japanese port of Tsuruga, he helped shepherd thousands to safety. He wrote a peom about the experience, in which he said the ship carried people without nations. Thanks to the scrap book he kept, pictures of those "nationless" people are around today.

Though Japan was an ally to Nazi Germany, ordinary Japanese were not anti-Semitic, according to the researchers and Japanese tourism industry veterans who helped uncover the quiet but life-saving work of Sugihara, Osako and others.

Ordinary people "had a different agenda from the government, Rabbi Tokayer told the New York Times. The person in the street was kind and friendly and supportive of the Jews who arrived in Tsuruga." 

A page from Tatsuo Osako's scrap book with pictures of Jews who fled Europe to Japan.Credit: AP