Chiune Sugihara Saved Thousands of Jews during World War II, Without Defying His Government

On the eve of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara wrote thousands of visas for Polish Jews, allowing them to escape to the Far East and thus avoid Hitler’s grasp. Since his heroic actions began receiving public attention in the late 1960s, the facts about his story have gotten mixed up with a number of myths. Amanda Borschel-Dan seeks to set the record straight:

Today, Sugihara is lauded internationally as an anti-establishment figure who went against the orders of [authoritarian] Japan to save the Jews. According to this narrative, after eighteen months of dire Soviet captivity in Romania starting in 1944, he returned to Japan and in 1947 was fired by the Foreign Ministry for his deeds. [As a result], he lost his pension and died in poverty. However, say historians and his sole surviving son, almost none of this is true.

Born in 1900, during his short stint in 1939-40 as the Japanese vice-consul to Kovno (today Kaunas) in Soviet-occupied Lithuania, Sugihara is credited with issuing up to 3,500 transit visas to Jewish refugees and families who had fled Nazi-occupied Poland. . . . With these visas, and a complex mechanism of aid from other consuls, companies, and individuals, up to 10,000 Jews are thought to have been saved. . . .

[The Japanese government had] sent Sugihara to Kovno where, using his Russian language skills, he was to report back to Japan about any German or Soviet military movement in the area, which would allow Japan time to move its troops. In short, like every wartime attaché, he was a diplomatic spy.

But Sugihara never defied any orders. He reported regularly on his rescue activities, even if he engaged in some creative stalling and bureaucratic maneuvers to carry them out. His subsequent diplomatic postings in other European cities suggest that he was on a successful career path; the Japanese foreign service fired him in 1948 due only to a U.S.-initiated reorganization.

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Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem