VILNIUS, Lithuania — A tradition in Lithuania committed to some Japanese diplomat who assisted tens of thousands of Jews flee Europe from the first years of World War II has been long an economic lifeline by men and women at Japan, officials said Friday.
The memorial museum at Lithuania’s former funding resisted the story of Chiune Sugihara, that had been a vice-consul diplomat based in the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas during 1939-1940. Its little collection is placed in the villa which once functioned as the consulate.
Even the brake the coronavirus pandemic allowed on global travel has set the little museum, such as other cultural associations and tourist destinations across the world, under extreme financial pressure.
“Tickets earnings are our principal revenue source. Japanese used to constitute 85 percent of their people. Now, the people from Japan are gone, so is our earnings” museum director Ramunas Janulaitis said.
But individuals from Gifu Prefecture in the Japanese island of Honshu, in which Sugihara has been born, raised some 30,000 euros (roughly $35,600) to assist the museum to endure the pandemic.
“We hope to increase yet another 40,000 (euros) from the fall,” Western Ambassador Shiro Yamasaki said.
The Soviet Union and Germany occupied Lithuania throughout the war. The Soviets annexed the southern country, which eventually becomes independent in 1990.
Throughout his period in the consulate in Kaunas, Sugihara issued transit visas to Japan to almost 6,000 Jewish refugees, largely from neighboring Poland. The 10-day visas he provided without the endorsement of Japan’s Foreign Ministry allowed the refugees to escape and survive the Holocaust.
Produced in 1999, the memorial honoring his brave action displays the life and function of Sugihara, The Grove has been decorated to recreate exactly what it seemed like during his time. The titles of Jews to whom he’s known to have given visas are also exhibited.