In 1940, Chiune Sugihara, then the Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, issued thousands of visas allowing Jews to transit through Japan to destinations elsewhere; he would eventually also grant visas to Jews without any proof of intention to proceed onward. He began by issuing visas to Lithuanian Jews who were also Dutch citizens, claiming they were en route to the Netherlands’ American colonies. Alyza Lewin explains the role her grandmother—who was born in Amsterdam but in 1940 was in Lithuania along with her mother and brother—played in this story:
In Lithuania, my grandmother sought help from the Dutch diplomats because her mother and brother were Dutch citizens and because she had been a Dutch citizen prior to marrying my [Polish] grandfather. She initially asked Jan Zwartendijk, [the Dutch consul in] Kaunas, if he could issue her a visa to the Dutch East Indies. . . . He refused. So she wrote to the Dutch ambassador in Riga, L.P.J. de Decker. He also turned down her request, . . . [but later] replied that the Dutch West Indies, including Curaçao and Suriname, were available destinations where no visa was needed. The governor of Curaçao could authorize entry to anyone arriving there.
My grandmother again wrote to de Decker asking whether he could note the Curaçao or Suriname exception in her still-valid Polish passport. She asked the envoy to omit the additional note that permission of the governor of Curaçao was required. After all, she pointed out, she really did not plan to go to Curaçao or Suriname.
. . . That is how my grandparents and my father received the very first Curaçao visa. Relying on [the Dutch envoy’s word], Sugihara agreed to give my grandparents (and my grandmother’s mother and brother, who were still Dutch citizens) transit visas through Japan on their purported trip to Curaçao.
More about: Chiune Sugihara, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Japan, Lithuania, Netherlands, Suriname