Chiune Sugihara, Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, awoke on the morning of July 18, 1940, to a disturbing sight. He peered through the curtains of his bedroom window just before 6 a.m. Sugihara and his wife had been living in the consulate building since their arrival at the end of August 1939, just a few days before the German Army advanced into Poland.

"The street that the bedroom window of the consulate faced," Chiune wrote in a memoir more than four decades later, "was suddenly filled with the din and clamor of a large group of people."

About 100 people had already lined up that morning, some pushing against the iron railing of the consulate fence.