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The government unveiled a plaque Tuesday commemorating a Japanese diplomat who worked against the interests of his own country to save thousands of Jews in Lithuania during World War II.

Foreign Minister Yohei Kono unveiled the copper plaque to Chiune Sugihara, known as “Japan’s Schindler,” on a wall at the ministry’s Diplomatic Record Office in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, along with Sugihara’s widow, Yukiko, 86.

“As foreign minister, I apologize to you and other relatives,” Kono told her.

She replied that her husband, who was born 100 years ago, would have been pleased.

In August 1940, Sugihara, acting consul at the Japanese Consulate in Lithuania, issued visas allowing about 6,000 Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany to enter Japan, knowing this was contrary to the interests of Japan, which was an ally of the Nazis.

The Netherlands had earlier issued visas allowing Jews to move to Curacao Island under its rule in the Caribbean Sea as a place of refuge, and many Jews flocked to the Japanese Consulate seeking transit visas issued by a third country to enter the Soviet Union.

After his return to Japan in 1947, Sugihara left the ministry but faced punishment for disobeying orders from Tokyo. Sugihara died in 1986, and it was not until five years later that the ministry released an official statement aimed at recovering his honor.

Meanwhile, the Japan Foundation on Tuesday announced it will launch a scholarship program, the Chiune Sugihara Fellowship, to invite Israeli researchers of Japanese studies to Japan starting next April.

The Foreign Ministry affiliate will provide a long-term scholarship of up to one year for two people, and a short-term scholarship of up to two months for two others, organization officials said.

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