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Japan seeks UNESCO recognition for ancient stone monuments and diplomat who saved 6,000 Jews

Kyodo

Japan on Thursday selected the records of a diplomat who helped thousands of Jews escape the Holocaust and three ancient stone monuments as candidates for UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

Chiune Sugihara was the acting consul in Lithuania in 1940, where he issued transit visas to around 6,000 Jews who then were able to escape Nazi persecution. Driven by humanitarian instincts, he acted in defiance of a Japanese government order prohibiting the issuance.

Japan will file the applications next March with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. A UNESCO advisory board will decide whether to add them to the register in summer 2017.

The records, including a visa he issued and a copy of his communications with the Japanese Foreign Ministry, have been kept in his hometown of Yaotsu, Gifu Prefecture.

The Japanese National Committee for UNESCO picked the Sugihara records on the grounds that they document a humanitarian achievement and have global historical value.

“We feel very happy,” Yaotsu Mayor Shingo Akatsuka said in response to the selection. “We want to convey the cruelty of war and the value of life to future generations through Sugihara’s humanitarian act.”

Sugihara has been dubbed “Japan’s Schindler,” a reference to German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved roughly 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust by hiring them to work at his factories.

Although Sugihara was pressured to leave the ministry in 1947 after the war, his actions were appreciated in Israel and the United States, and in time the ministry came to rehabilitate his name, installing a plate to honor him at the Diplomatic Archives.

Meanwhile, the three ancient stone monuments in Gunma Prefecture were built in the seventh and eighth century, reflecting the ancient culture of the Korean Peninsula. One of the three is the nation’s oldest surviving stone monument.

Any country’s national committee for UNESCO can nominate up to two candidates for the UNESCO Memory of the World Register every two years. The Japanese committee selected the two from a total of 16 candidates recommended between March and June.

The register currently names three Japanese items — a collection of Sakubei Yamamoto’s paintings and diaries recording Japan’s coal mining industry, materials related to the Keicho-era mission to Europe in the early 17th century, and a diary of Fujiwara no Michinaga, an influential politician from the late 10th to early 11th century.

In a three-day session from Oct. 4, the UNESCO advisory board is set to screen two other Japanese items submitted for consideration — records about Japanese troops detained in Siberian labor camps after World War II and a set of ancient documents designated as a Japanese national treasure held at Toji Temple in Kyoto.

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