The other night I watched a deeply moving documentary on PBS, “Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness,” about a heroic Japanese consul who saved thousands of Jewish lives during WWII:
As Japan’s consul to Lithuania, Sugihara risked career, disgrace, his life, and the lives of his family defying Tokyo by writing transit visas for refugees desperate to escape persecution. In August 1940, Sugihara spent upwards of sixteen hours a day issuing visas, until Soviet-occupied Lithuania forced the final shutdown of the country’s last remaining consulates. In the end, more than 2,000 Sugihara-stamped passports allowed hundreds of families to flee Europe through Russia to safe havens abroad. Today it is estimated that more than 40,000 people owe their very existence to Sugihara’s heroic acts of humanitarianism.
(You can find many more details, as well as video clips, at the website.)
His full name was Chiune Sugihara, but after the war, when the Japanese government fired him and he was forced to take any job he could get, he wound up working in Moscow under the name Sempo Sugiwara. I wondered about the relationship between the names, and now Bill Poser of Language Log explains what’s going on in a detailed post (hint: the pairs of given names and family names are identical, but in different ways). I’m glad he posted about it, both because it informed me and because it gave me a chance to post on this topic and urge everyone to read about a nearly forgotten man.