Very few people know about the heroic actions of a selfless man often called the “Japanese Schindler.”
Soon after Steven Spielberg released his 1993 Oscar-winning Holocaust film “Schindler’s List” (about the German industrialist and humanitarian Oskar Schindler, who saved 1,200 Jewish lives), Japanese-American filmmaker Chris Tashima made his docudrama about a man who saved thousands more Jews during the Holocaust.
His 26-minute film, “Visas and Virtues” tells a fictionalized, profoundly powerful story about Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986), a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania credited with saving an estimated 6,000 Jews from the Holocaust.
The 1997 narrative short film — shown Sunday, Oct. 9 at the Putnam Giant Screen Thater in Davenport — was directed by Chris Tashima and starred Tashima (as Sugihara), Susan Fukuda, Diana Georger and Lawrence Craig.
It won the Oscar for Best Short Film, Live Action, and was paired at the Putnam with the 1995 Academy Award-winning documentary “One Survivor Remembers,” which won the Oscar for Best Documentary, Short Subject.
Moline filmmaker Kelly Rundle (co-executive director of Truth First Film Alliance) showed a 24-minute Q & A with Tashima (recorded recently) on Sunday, which you can see HERE.
According to the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, Sugihara had requested three times authorization to issue visas, but every time was denied this possibility by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He had been educated under the strict and traditional Japanese discipline. On one hand, he was limited by obedience. On the other, he had to help the needy. He knew that if he defied the orders given to him by his superiors, he could be discharged and dishonored and probably could never again work for his government, according to the foundation website.
He was afraid for his wife Yukiko and for his children’s lives, but he finally obeyed what his conscience commanded. He would sign the visas without Tokyo’s permission.
During 29 days in the summer of 1940, Sempo and Yukiko Sugihara spent endless hours writing out and signing visas by hand. More than 300 visas a day, an amount that normally meant a whole month of work for the whole consulate. Without even stopping to eat, Sugihara decided not to lose a single minute.
People waited for their transit permits standing in line, day and night. Hundreds of applicants became thousands. Sugihara worked around the clock; he knew that in no time he would be forced to shut down the consulate and abandon Lithuania.
He continued to issue visas until the last minute, just before the train left to take him from Kovno to Berlin, on Sept. 1, 1940. When the train left the station, he gave his official seal to a refugee, who could continue the rescue mission.
For more information on Truth First Film Alliance, click HERE.