An Academy Award-winning movie portraying a Japanese diplomat who helped Jews escape Nazi persecution inaccurately depicts the Foreign Ministry as supporting Adolf Hitler’s final solution policy toward the Jews, a ministry official said.
“Visas and Virtues,” a 26-minute film produced in 1997, stars Japanese-American actor and director Chris Tashima. Tashima portrays Consul to Lithuania Chiune Sugihara, caught between his moral convictions and government orders, issuing visas to help as many as 6,000 Jews flee Nazi persecution in 1940.
The movie ends with a scene where Sugihara is “disgraced” and fired from the ministry, strongly suggesting he was punished for issuing the visas. “The guidelines of the Foreign Ministry declared that all peoples, no matter what nationality or ethnicity, were to be treated equally,” Masaaki Shiraishi of the Diplomatic Record Office told a meeting Thursday of the Japan Israel Chamber of Commerce held in Tokyo.
The Foreign Ministry only warned Sugihara to limit the number of transit visas he issued to those with adequate funds and arrangements for ongoing travel due to fears of a refugee problem, Shiraishi said. “There were no orders against issuing visas to Jews.”
Furthermore, no evidence exists that Sugihara was dismissed from the ministry for issuing visas, he said. According to Shiraishi, Sugihara was promoted and given a pay raise after his return to Japan.
Sugihara’s dismissal in 1947 was probably just part of ministry restructuring, in which one-third of its officials were fired because they were not fluent in English, Shiraishi claimed. “I do not mean to discredit the heroism of Sugihara,” Shiraishi said. “But the portrayal of Sugihara standing alone, while the rest of the Foreign Ministry turned a cold back on the plight of the Jews, is simply false.
“There were other, unrecognized heroes, such as the policymakers at the Foreign Ministry and the citizens of Kobe who warmly welcomed Jewish refugees,” he said. Sugihara and his family long interpreted the dismissal from the ministry as a direct result of the visas Sugihara issued, and ceased all communications with the ministry for 44 years.
In 1991, Masao Suzuki, vice minister of foreign affairs, publicly praised Sugihara’s actions, and relations between the ministry and the family were reconciled. The film, which won the Academy Award for best short film, opens in Japan today at the Fukuoka Film Festival.
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