• Jiji

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A group of Japanese tour conductors has been asking for help to keep afloat a museum in Lithuania dedicated to Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who helped thousands of Jews flee the Nazis during World War II.

The museum relies on admission fees and donations, but admission fee revenue has dropped as the coronavirus pandemic reduced the number of visitors considerably.

The tour conductors’ group and the museum’s operator jointly launched a crowdfunding campaign, which had raised some ¥5.4 million as of Oct. 9 toward its goal of ¥8 million.

“We want young generations to know more about who Sugihara was,” said Kaya Nishiyama, a 25-year-old member of the group.

During his time at the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas in 1940, Sugihara issued transit visas to thousands of Jewish refugees to help them escape Nazi persecution.

The museum, housed in the building that once served as the consulate, welcomed some 19,100 visitors last year, of which 16,500, or 86%, were Japanese.

The number of visitors to the museum has dropped considerably this year due to its coronavirus-related closure and an advisory against travel to Lithuania.

Sugihara’s home prefecture of Gifu and others have provided aid to the museum, donating about ¥3.7 million in July.

This year marks the 120th anniversary of Sugihara’s birth and the 80th anniversary of his life-saving actions.

“It’s important to learn from books and videos, but visits give you unique experiences,” Nishiyama said. “We’ll guide many people once the coronavirus is bought under control.”

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