The Holocaust was the focus of Year 8 history lessons between Easter and the summer. Lessons on the origins, the events and the aftermath, lessons also on the participants, the perpetrators, the victims, and those who tried to resist the Nazis and to rescue the Jews.
Among the resisters and the rescuers there were men and women who were not obvious candidates to be heroes, but who achieved extraordinary things. This week, Google is recognising Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania whose personal initiative and willingness to take risks saved the lives of thousands of Jews. Hopefully, at least some of the Year 8 students will recognise Chiune Sugihara, for he is one of those whom we studied; his story was included among stories of people like Oskar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg and Corrie Ten Boom.
In 1985, some forty years after the end of the War, the self-effacing Sugihara received the recognition of the Government of Israel as being “Righteous Among the Nations.” A year later, on 31st July 1986, he died: Google is marking the anniversary of his death.
When he was asked about why he had acted as he did, Sugihara responded:
You want to know about my motivation, don’t you? Well. It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. He just cannot help but sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes, Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes. Also, I felt at that time, that the Japanese government did not have any uniform opinion in Tokyo. Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent.
People in Tokyo were not united. I felt it silly to deal with them. So, I made up my mind not to wait for their reply. I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong in saving many people’s lives…The spirit of humanity, philanthropy…neighbourly friendship…with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation—and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage.
If the students learned nothing else from the lessons on the Holocaust, for them to learn a spirit of humanity would be a lesson of infinite value.