Sugihara served as vice consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania during the Second World War. In that position he helped about six-thousand Jews flee Europe by issuing them transit visas allowing them to travel through Japanese territory. In doing this he was going against orders of his superiors as Japan was aligned with Germany and the axis powers. This was a true act of courage which he did at great risking his job and his family's lives. After the war Sugihara was asked to resign by Japan's Foreign Ministry for defying the rules of a government which at the time was allied with Germany. He died in obscurity in 1986.
In 1985, the State of Israel honored Sugihara as one of the Righteous among the Nations (Hebrew: חסידי אומות העולם) for his actions. He is one of 22,000 non-Jews who have been honored with the title and the only Japanese national to receive the honor. In contrast many Japanese leaders were tried for war crimes after the war and were executed.
In June 2016, Israel again honored him naming a Netanya street after him in a ceremony attended by his only surviving son named Nobuki Sugihara. The Mayor of Netanya, Miriam Fierberg-Ikar unveiled the new street sign in an official ceremony and Nobuki thanked the Israeli people for remembering his father.
Yesterday, (Sunday) when taking a tour in Kaunas, Lithuania and visiting the former Japanese consulate where Sugihara worked Prime Minister Abe said the following to journalists present:
“His brave and humane action teaches us how we can survive in this world where the rule of law based on world order clashes with various challenges. He worked far from Japan in difficult circumstances but he had great faith as a Japanese diplomat and saved many Jews.”
When the Soviets captured Lithuania in June 1940 Jewish refugees came looking for visas in order to leave the country. Speaking with them Sugihara wanted to help them and provided them with travel visas to go through Japan to a final destination. Often that final destination was Curacao which was under Dutch rule and didn’t need a visa. But Japanese orders were that without a visa to a final destination Sugihara was not allowed to issue travel visas allowing them to travel through Japan. Sugihara issued them anyway in defiance of orders. Most of the Jewish community in Lithuania, approximately 200,000 were killed in concentration camps. Sugihara was a light in the midst of much darkness.