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Japanese Hero

Sugihara museum Photo: Yossi Krichli
Sugihara museum Photo: Yossi Krichli
 
 

'Japanese Schindler' cartoon in works

Animated film to honor diplomat Sempo Sugihara, who risked his job to save thousands of Jews in Holocaust

Iris Georlette
Published: 04.25.06, 18:58 / Israel Culture

Japan's largest film company, Nippon Animation, is producing an animated film on Chione (Sempo) Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in Europe during the Holocaust, and who became known as the "Japanese Schindler."

 

The film was specially animated for television stations in Japan and around the world. The plan is to market the film in 2008, marking 60 years since diplomatic relations were established between Israel and Japan.

 

The Japanese company asked Israel's ambassador to Japan, Eli Cohen, company to help in making the film.

 

"At first this was a little problematic," Cohen told Ynet, "because in the film accusations are leveled at the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
But in order to prevent a possibility of a diplomatic crisis, the production company promised to coordinate on the issue with the Gaimusho (Japanese Foreign Ministry)."

 

Japan Embassy Spokesman Shmulik Bass told Ynet that recently a few items about Sugihara appeared in the Japanese media, giving Nippon Animation a push to produce the film, partly because of the economic potential abroad.

 

Who was Sempo Sugihara?

 

In 1939, when the Second World War broke out, Sugihara was a diplomat at the Japanese Consulate in Lithuania. During the war, Sugihara saved around 6,000 Jewish from Poland and Lithuania by giving them visas to pass through Japan to the Curacao island in the Caribbean.

 

Tokyo officials refused Sugihara's repeated requests to approve the visas, and when he felt that further delay could bring disaster, he gambled and began to issue the visas on his own.

 

Sugihara, the last foreign diplomat to leave Kaunas, continued to sign the visas through an open window of a moving train

 

When he returned to Tokyo in 1947, he was fired from Japan's Foreign Service. The Japanese government did not admit that he was fired for helping Jews, and blamed the act on "the disappearing of many diplomats under the American occupation."

 

His name was cleared by the Japanese government only in 1992.

 

Today Sugihara is considered a national hero in Japan, and a museum has been built in his memory, while his story is studied in schools.

 

Sugihara's story was unknown for years until a group of survivors began searching for him with the help of the Israeli government. In 1968, Sugihara was located and invited to visit Israel.

 

In 1985, a year before his death, Sugihara received a "Righteous Gentile" and a forest of cedars was planted in his name, without authorities knowing that the name Sugihara meant "a plain of cedars."

 

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