Heroism amazes me, and I don't mean make-believe heroes such as John Wayne – he was an actor who often played heroic characters in the movies — I mean real heroes in real life. Every time there is a Holocaust memorial, I hear stories of true heroism. I recently saw the PBS video about Chiune Sugihara. Yes, I wept.
In the fall of 1939, Hitler's murderous wave was sweeping through Eastern Europe. In the face of the Nazi onslaught, Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara set about saving thousands of lives. But his struggle was not fought on the battlefields or in war rooms. He used his power as a diplomat to rescue fleeing Jewish refugees.
As Japan's consul to Lithuania, Sugihara risked career, disgrace, his life, and the lives of his family defying Tokyo by writing transit visas for refugees desperate to escape persecution. In August 1940, Sugihara spent upwards of sixteen hours a day issuing visas, until Soviet-occupied Lithuania forced the final shutdown of the country's last remaining consulates. In the end, more than 2,000 Sugihara-stamped passports allowed hundreds of families to flee Europe through Russia to safe havens abroad. Today it is estimated that more than 40,000 people owe their very existence to Sugihara's heroic acts of humanitarianism.