Museum devoted to 'visas for life' diplomat Chiune Sugihara to open in Tokyo

JIJI, Kyodo

A museum based on the life of Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986), a Japanese diplomat who issued transit visas to thousands of Jewish people during World War II to help them escape from Nazi persecution, is set to open Saturday in the Yaesu district of Tokyo.

Items to be exhibited at the Chiune Sugihara Sempo Museum will include one of the “visas for life,” as well as manuscripts written by Sugihara. Sempo was Sugihara’s nickname when he was working at the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania.

The visa to be put on display was issued by Sugihara to the late Nathan Bluman on Aug. 9, 1940, allowing the Jewish Pole to escape to Canada by way of Japan.

Bluman’s son George, who donated the passport that contains a transit visa written by Sugihara, was present at the museum’s opening ceremony held Tuesday.

Chihiro Sugihara, 55, the grandson of Chiune Sugihara who heads the nonprofit organization “Chiune Sugihara. Visas For Life,” said: “Now we have a facility in Tokyo where people can learn about the Holocaust. I hope it can offer the opportunity for all the people to develop the imagination to live together.” The museum will be run by the organization and other entities.

Madoka Sugihara, 52, granddaughter of Chiune Sugihara and vice chair of the organization, said, “We want visitors to understand the thoughts of a diplomat who saved many people by staking his life in the grueling days of the war.”

Among the manuscripts to be exhibited will be a note, believed to have been written around the summer of 1978. It describes how Sugihara felt when he decided to issue transit visas to Jewish people in defiance of a Japanese Foreign Ministry order not to do so.

“After struggle and anguish, I finally came to conclude that the most important thing is humanitarianism,” the note says.

The original visa and manuscripts will be kept in secure storage, with replicas and copies to be put on display, along with other exhibits such as photographs and a panel listing the names of people to whom transit visas were issued by Sugihara.

The museum will be open between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays, and will be closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

The entrance fee will be ¥500 for adults and ¥300 for junior high and high school students. Admission will be free for elementary school students and younger children.