“Visas for Life” and the bond of humanity: Sugihara Chiune’s courageous humanitarian act

From December 8 to 12, 2020, the Embassy of Japan in collaboration with the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem (CSYV), the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the Embassy of Israel in Canada, the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Canada and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC)) organized an event to honour the humanitarian accomplishments of Japanese diplomat Sugihara Chiune. The event was entitled ‘Visas for Life’ and the bond of humanity: Sugihara Chiune’s courageous humanitarian act and was held virtually.

As vice-consul of Japan in Kaunas (Lithuania) in 1939-1940, Sugihara helped in total thousands of Jewish refugees flee Europe by issuing 2,139 transit visas to Japan.

A live, virtual grand opening was held on December 8. H.E. Ambassador Kawamura Yasuhisa along with the Hon. Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism and the Hon. Michael Levitt, President & CEO of FSWC gave opening remarks.

Representatives from the embassies of Lithuania and Israel, CIJA and CSYV also gave remarks. During the opening event, the audience had the opportunity to hear from three ‘Sugihara visa’ survivors and their families – Dr. Sylvia Smoller, Dr. George Bluman and Ms. Karen Leon. The audience also enjoyed a piano performance by Ms. Laura Leon.

As part of the virtual event, visitors had the opportunity to watch interviews of ‘Sugihara’ visa survivors and their descendants – Dr. Sylvia Smoller, Mr. Isaac Tarshansky, Dr. George Bluman and Ms. Karen Leon. Visitors could also listen to representatives’ greeting messages.

Visitors were also able to enjoy the movie “Persona Non Grata” (2015, dir. Cellin Gluck) about Sugihara Chiune, and the short documentary “Sugihara Survivors: Jewish and Japanese, Past and Present” (2017, dir. Junichi Kajioka).

A recording of the opening event may be watched here: ’Visas for Life' and the Bond of Humanity: live webinar event

The interviews with the survivors and their descendants may be watched online:  
Main page of the ‘Visas for Life’ website

Website page about Sugihara Chiune

H.E. Ambassador Kawamura delivering his remarks during the live opening event
Dr. Smoller’s remarks during the live event

Dr. Bluman’s remarks during the live event

Ms. Karen Leon’s remarks during the live event Ms. Laura Leon introducing her piano pieces