skip to Main Content

Colleges of Arts & Sciences to Host Special Event featuring Widow of Japanese Diplomat and Holocaust Hero

Yukiko Sugihara will speak about her late husband Chiune Sugihara who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Karin Mackenzie, (808) 956-4051
Colleges of Arts & Sciences
Tamara Goldbogen, (808) 944-7771
Colleges of Arts & Sciences
Posted: Mar 17, 2003

The Colleges of Arts & Sciences of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and their Nisei Veterans Endowed Forum Series present a special program featuring Yukiko Sugihara, widow of Japanese Consul General Chiune Sugihara who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust by issuing them transit visas. She will speak about the selfless efforts of her late husband at a special presentation on Friday, April 4, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaiʻi.

Sugihara will give an eyewitness account of her husband‘s rescue activities and follow her presentation with a Q&A session and a book signing session of her memoirs, "Visas for Life." A photo exhibit of the rescue activities of Chiune Sugihara in Lithuania will also be available for viewing.

The event, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the UH Mānoa Colleges of Arts and Sciences, their Nisei Veterans Endowed Forum Series, the Visas for Life Project, and Shaoul Levy of Levy Affiliated Holdings, LLC. For more information, call (808) 944-7771.


Chiune Sugihara was the Consul General representing Japan in Kovno, Lithuania, in the summer of 1940. He issued thousands of visas to Polish Jewish refugees who were trapped in Lithuania and whose only escape route was through the Soviet Union and Japan. Despite the fact that he was forbidden by the Japanese foreign ministry to do so, he issued the life-saving visas, and more than 6,000 Jews thus escaped almost sure death at the hands of the Nazis. This was one of the largest mass rescues of Jews during the Holocaust, and today, it is estimated that there are more than 40,000 descendants of the Jews who received Sugihara‘s visas.

Moshe Langer, who as a teenage Jew from Poland received a visa from Sugihara, recalled, "Chiune Sugihara was nothing less than an angel...he saved my life. I can never thank him enough."

After the war, Sugihara was unceremoniously dismissed from diplomatic service for issuing the visas. Disgraced in his home country, Sugihara took odd jobs for several years and all the time not knowing what happened to the Jews he had helped. In 1968, a Jewish refugee who was saved by Sugihara sought him out. For the first time, Sugihara realized the Jews he had helped had actually survived the war. In 1985, Sugihara was finally recognized by the State of Israel as a Righteous Among the Nations for his life-saving activities. When asked why he issued the visas even against government orders, he said, "I may have disobeyed my government, but if I didn‘t I would be disobeying God." He added, "Those people told me the kind of horror they would have to face if they didn‘t get away from the Nazis and I believed them. There was no place else for them to go. They trusted me. They recognized me as a legitimate functionary of the Japanese Ministry. If I had waited any longer, even if permission came, it might have been too late."

In 1986, Sugihara passed away peacefully in his home near Tokyo. Since then, Sugihara‘s wife, Yukiko, who was present while he issued the visas and encouraged him in these activities, has been traveling the world telling her husband‘s story. Yukiko, who is 89 years old, is making a special trip to Hawaiʻi from Japan.

When asked about the visas, she recalled, "I encouraged my husband to issue the visas, even though I knew it might jeopardize his career and even our lives. We knew that Jewish refugees were in peril for their lives. Human life is the most precious thing."