Japan That Helped the Jewish Refugees
By Uesugi Chitoshi
I was devoting myself to a study of history textbooks when I encountered a high-school text called “New English Course” (Sanyûsha), which came into use in April of 1994. One passage introduced the account of Sugihara Chiune, a Japanese vice-consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, who issued some 2,000 visas to save about 6,000 Jewish refugees in the summer of 1940.
I learned about this mention of Sugihara in the textbook from media reports.
I felt that there was something difficult to understand in the account.
Since Sugihara and I were from the same prefecture, I set out to investigate
the circumstances at the time of the issuance of those visas.
As a result, I found that it hadn’t been only Sugihara who had been helping Jewish refugees. At the outbreak of the Sino–Japanese Incident in June of 1937, when Japan couldn’t avoid getting involved in the problem of
the Jewish refugees, the examples of high-ranking military officers like Maj. Gen. Higuchi Kiichirô, Col. Yasue Norihiro, and naval Capt. Inuzuka Koreshige, serve to demonstrate the proactive stance of the Japanese armed forces to deal compassionately with Jewish refugees.
Thanks to those connected with these four men, a biographical and historical record now exists of their actions. Since no account setting forth the general situations of these men’s actions exists, it is difficult to get to know the full story.
It from my research that I came to realize these four men’s personal stories and their admirable actions — like those of Inuzuka, who carried out a difficult duty in Shanghai — have been completely misunderstood.
I was able to write Yudaya Nanmin to Hakkô Itchô (Jewish Refugees and Universal Brotherhood* — published on 2/11/2002 by Tentensha) using documents of the Diplomatic Record Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the nucleus, supported by exchanges of shared information and materials provided by Maj. Gen. (later Lt. Gen.) Higuchi’s eldest daughter, Tamamura Michiko (born 12/18/1917); the husband of his third daughter Hashimoto Fujiko (b. 7/13/1929), Hashimoto Yoshikata; his fourth daughter, Satô Chieko (b. 9/3/1933); Col. Yasue’s eldest son, Yasue Hiroo (b. 7/6/1924); and Capt.
Inuzuka’s eldest son, Inuzuka Masataka (b. 12/15/1932).
Inuzuka Masakata (graduate in English literature from the Department of Letters of Tokyo Kyôiku University, formerly an English teacher at a public high school in Shizuoka prefecture) took on the task of translating this book into English. The title has been changed for that edition to The Japan that Helped Jewish Refugees.
With this English publication, the book can be read widely in Europe, America, and Israel.
Yudaya Nanmin to Hakkô Itchô is not a book for the masses; its writing style is formal and essay-like, and not even easy to read in Japanese.
Now, however, with publication in English, it is all the more available.
There are a few points that need to be noted about the actions of these four people.
* The phrase “hakkô itchô” has been variously translated as
“the eight corners of the world under one roof,” “Universal Brotherhood,” etc. Since “Universal Brotherhood” was the official translation used during the Tokyo Tribunals, we have adopted that usage here.
A. “The Higuchi–Matsuoka Route”: Rescuing the Jewish Refugees With the outbreak of the Sino–Japanese Incident, the Central Army grew concerned about Soviet activities, so Maj. Gen. Higuchi was recalled from Berlin where he had arrived to serve as military attaché at the Japanese embassy. He was assigned as chief of the Special Service Agency at Harbin in Manchuria (formerly the three north-east provinces of China).
At that time, Dr. A. Kaufmann, leader of the Jewish community in Harbin, was planning for a Far-East Asian Jewish Conference. There was concern when Gen. Higuchi arrived at his post, but he reassured them when he showed his approval for holding the conference.
The army’s central department, which knew of this through the Kwantung Army, sent the army’s number-one expert on Jewish studies —Col. Yasue Norihiro, who had been a student at the military academy at the same time as Higuchi — to assist him.
The First Far-East Asian Jewish Conference was opened in Harbin on Dec. 26, 1937 and lasted for three days. It was a success. This paved the way for the Second Conference to be held in December of 1938, and the Third in December of 1939.
On March 8, 1938, news arrived of Jewish refugees arriving at Otopol Station in the Soviet Union. Higuchi dvised a Japanese diplomat in Harbin, Manchuria, named Shimomura Nobusada, to help them gain passage.
Thereupon, Shimomura telephoned the director of the South Manchurian Railroad, Matsuoka Yôsuke (later Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs), and asked him to arrange a train.
Matsuoka issued directions to give free passage to the refugees.
Thereafter, free passage to the refugees was made a standing policy.
Because of the resolute actions of Higuchi and Matsuoka, many Jewish refugees were admitted to Harbin and Dalian, and then went on to America or Shanghai. I call this the Higuchi–Matsuoka Route.
Nazi Germany issued a protest over the Otopol Incident, but the chiefof-staff of the Kwantung Army, Lt. Gen. (later Prime Minister) Tôjô Hideki, was in agreement with Gen. Higuchi, so he ignored it. When he wrote his memoirs after the war, Higuchi praised Tôjô’s stance highly.
B. “The Yasue-Itagaki Line”: A National Policy to Protect the Jewish Refugees.
Col. Yasue, after having the opportunity to participate in the First Far-East Asian Jewish Conference, took a hand in dealing with the problem of Jewish refugees while part of the Kwantung Army.
Yasue had the idea of adding the Jews to the Manchurian national policy of “Peaceful Cooperation Among the Five Peoples” to make it “Peaceful Cooperation Among the Six Peoples.” On Jan. 21, 1938, he had the Kwantung Army headquarters declare “An Outline on the Policy Vis-à-vis the Jewish People Henceforth.”
This was meant to include the Jewish people in the stated goal to “make [our] ideal to gather in the embrace of our great spirit of Universal Brotherhood.”
There were ideas among those in the economic world to use Jewish capital in the development of Manchuria. In opposition to this, he stated, “We must strictly stave off attitudes like arbitrarily making investments with Jewish capital.”
Then, in July of 1938, delegates from 32 nations met at an international conference in Evian, France and issued a flat rebuff to the
question of accepting Jewish refugees. With this, a large influx of refugees was anticipated only for countries in the Japanese sphere of influence. On Oct. 3, 1938, Japan decided that “[they] are not wanted in Japan or any of our colonies (but they may pass through them).”
Yasue, in opposition to this policy of the Foreign Affairs Office, sent a petition to the Minister of the Army Lt. Gen. (later Gen.) Itagaki Seishirô, with a letter of introduction from Maj. Gen. (later Lt. Gen.) Ishihara Kanji, the deputy chief of staff of the Kwantung Army, who had been a classmate at the military academy. As a result, at a proposal from the Minister of the Army, key ministers of state (called a “Conference of Five Ministers”) met on Dec. 6, 1938, and in concert decided on a “Policy Prospectus Vis-à-vis the Jews.”
The policy said, “Now, for Jewish people coming legally into Japan, Manchuria, or China, conventional regulations for foreign immigrants are dispensed with.” The protection of Jewish refugees had become a state policy.
In its preamble, it stated “[We are] in agreement with the timehonored assertion of the spirit of equality for all people” — a distinct denial of the anti-Semitic polity of Japan’s ally, Nazi Germany.
In this fashion, protection of Jewish refugees was made a Japanese national policy thanks to the “Yasue–Itagaki Line.”
C. “Paradise” — The Jewish Refugee Community in Shangai and the Inuzuka Machine
With the Sino–Japanese Incident, the Jewish quarter of Shanghai became one of the districts under the protection of the Japanese navy. The Japanese navy’s number one expert on Jewish studies was Capt. Inuzuka Koreshige, who was serving at the Naval Headquarters. After suggesting setting up the conference in Shanghai to discuss the policy of what to do with the Jews, he felt it had become necessary for him to remain full-time in Shanghai, so in April of 1939, the “Inuzuka Machine” was born.
He’d heard unofficial word of a promotion to rear admiral and an assignment to sea duty, but instead he requested a transfer to the reserves and an assignment with the navy in Shanghai so that he could function from time to time as the head of the Inuzuka Machine.
At that time, there was anti-Semitic sentiment spreading in Japan from when Japan sent troops into Siberia. When one faction connected with the army in Shanghai issued an opinion piece suggesting that the Jews should be deported, Inuzuka issued a piece countering that position to the army there on March 19, 1939. In it, he said, “These refugees are German citizens and in a third [i.e., someone else’s] country. Where might the authority to deport them be under international law?” With this, he quashed
the talk of deportation.
The unrestricted influx of refugees was causing problems for the Shanghai Jewish community and Shanghai’s department of works. A request was made to Inuzuka to enlist the Japanese government’s help in stopping the incoming flow of refugees.
Instead, he found himself in a troubling position, unable to stave the refugee influx and still having to do whatever he could for them. Among the refugees arriving in Kobe were some who knew nothing of these circumstances, and who thought Inuzuka was in agreement with the Nazi’s diabolical “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.”
The truth was that on June 10, 1939, Inuzuka allowed the investigation section of Manchurian Rail to publish his report declaring that Protocols of the Elders of Zion was the greatest literary hoax of the century.
The beliefs of those in favor of stopping the influx of refugees to Shanghai were therefore a spectacular misconception.
Inuzuka returned to his original position upon the outbreak of the Greater East Asia War. On Dec. 30, 1941, the Shanghai Naval Office Special Investigative Unit was established and he became its head. The unit’s purpose was to investigate the Sassoon financial empire and conduct counterespionage.
One of their jobs which must be noted here was one in which they investigated the relationship between the Jews and the Freemasons, for which inquiry they entered the temple to bring light onto the subject.
According to their report, “An Outline of the Investigation of the Freemasons,” Nazi propaganda claiming the Freemasons to be a group secretly controlled by Jews was not correct.
About this time, a false story accusing Inuzuka of misappropriation of funds from the Sassoon financial empire began to be spread by anti-Semitic powers in the employ of the army and others. The naval authorities were unable to cope with this complication, so Inuzuka was ordered to sea. When he shipped off on March 7, 1942, he was seen off by an assemblage of notable Jewish personages.
Capt. Inuzuka had turned down a promotion and volunteered to work in Shanghai to solve the complicated problem of the Jewish refugees. In 1991, Hilda Rabau, a poet who had experienced life in Shanghai then, wrote a poem called “Shanghai Was Paradise.”
D. “Visas of Life” — Sugihara Issued Visas Against Orders from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was Awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Fifth Class.
Sugihara Chiune took up his post as vice-consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, at the establishment of the consulate there in August of 1939. His duty was to collect international information.
Early on July 18, 1940, many Jewish refugees appeared at the consulate seeking visas. Because of this, Sugihara sent the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a telegram, and they responded. The specifics of the exchange was published on March 30, 1996, by Shiraishi Masaaki of the Ministry Archives in “Introducing Documents: On Records Regarding the Issuance of the So-called Visas of Life” (Reports of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive, vol. 8).
According to the article, the core of his instructions was to issue visas to those who “carry suitable [amounts] of money for travel expenses as well as for their stay in-country, after completing procedures for them to go on to their destination country.” There was nothing in them to say that he was to be particularly strict just because they were Jewish refugees.
If he had followed the directives, he would not have been able to issue any visas, however. Therefore, from July 29 to Aug. 26 he rubber-stamped a large number of visas for the Dutch-held island of Curaçao. The total number of visas issued was 2,139. These were family visas that were issued, however, and if we take each visa covering three people, this means a total of some
The Jewish refugees went by ship from Vladivostok to Tsuruga and were welcomed in by the Jewish community in Kobe. Thereafter, they sailed on to America or Australia, or went to Shanghai.
Thus, he issued these “visas of life” in full readiness to resign his position; but the powers that be of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — Minister Matsuoka Yôsuke and Deputy Minister Ôhashi Chûichi — imposed no penalties on him whatsoever. With the signing of the Tripartite Agreement on Sept. 27, 1940, there was concern among the Jews living in Tokyo. To Jikkman, who had been introduced to him by Capt. Yasue, Matsuoka said that, “though I was responsible for the alliance with Hitler, I said nothing about carrying out anti-Semitic activities in Japan. This is not a personal opinion; it is also the opinion of the Japanese government.” Moreover, Ôhashi was from Gifu Prefecture, as was Sugihara, and they both had worked as diplomats with Manchurian Rail, and Ôhashi had the highest regard for Sugihara, who had exhibited supreme skill with the problematic purchase of
the Manchurian Rail line from the Soviet Union.
Thus, Sugihara continued to work as a diplomat in Europe, and on Nov.
15, 1944, he was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, fifth-class.
He returned to Japan after the war in 1947. On June 7, he resigned from the foreign service. This was due to the Administrative Reorganization and Special Staffing Order of 1946, calling for a shake-up in personnel. This was not a dismissal and it had nothing whatsoever to do with the issuance of the “visas of life.”
The Jewish community holds in high regard the afore-mentioned people who helped the Jewish refugees. The “Golden Book” (as it is commonly known in Japan) is the registry of the names of those being highly honored.
On June 14, 1941, Maj. Gen. Higuchi’s name was entered in volume six as number 4026, and entry number 4028 was Col. Yasue’s. Capt. Inuzuka declined the honor, saying, “I was only working in accordance with the Emperor’s benevolence toward all people.” On Jan. 18, 1985, Vice-consul Sugihara was awarded the status of “Righteous Among the Nations” by the government of Israel.
There are few, however, who know what a humane act was made by Itagaki Shôshirô when, As Minister of the Army, he set forth the “Policy Prospectus Vis-à-vis the Jews” on Dec. 6, 1938. Given the global perspective at the time, it was a most meritorious deed. I advocate making Dec. 6 “Humanity Day.”
The establishment of the “Higuchi-Matsuoka Route” was made possible through the appropriate decision of Lt. Gen. Tôjô Hideki, chief-ofstaff of the Kwantung Army. Furthermore, Matsuoka Yôsuke didn’t only help with the passage of the Jewish refugees while chairman of the South Manchurian Railroad — as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he didn’t punish Vice-consul Sugihara for arguably disobeying his directives. Still more, even though he entered into a pact and allied with Nazi Germany, his declaration to the Jewish community makes it is clear that he didn’t agree with Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. Those whose words and deeds are such as these are deserving of high praise.
There were probably many in Japan after the war who just couldn’t understand how these people could have behaved in such a pro-Jewish way while the prevailing trend in the world was anti-Semitic. I doubt that even many Jews or the rest of the world understands, either.
The Japanese thought that the Jews were a threat to Japan, thanks to the anti-Semitic propaganda picked up from White Russians following the sending of troops into Siberia during the First World War — propaganda about the emergence of Communism in Russia and the machinations of Jews in Europe. Because of this concern, Yasue and Inuzuka took up Jewish studies, becoming the army and navy’s top experts on the subject. This is why they became the people responsible for the Jews — Yasue in Manchuria, and
Inuzuka in Shanghai.
It wasn’t just those two, however. Many people of the time (especially military men) thought of the words of the founding emperor, Jinmu, after creating the state of Japan: “Universal Brotherhood.” This great principle was behind all thought and conduct.
This is why, when dealing deliberately with the Jews who were in crisis at the time, it was only natural that they did so according to “Universal Brotherhood” rather than being concerned about “the Jewish peril.” Sugihara was probably thinking about this when he said, “As I was confronted by these wailing Jewish refugees, what I thought was, ‘what would His Majesty do if he were here?’ When I thought that, the conclusion was obvious. I had to do what I thought His Majesty would have done.”
On Dec. 15, 1945, the American Army, occupying Japan, ordered the exclusion of the phrase “Universal Brotherhood” as a government slogan as one part of the “Shinto Directive” to tear down the Japanese spirit. At the Tokyo Tribunal (AKA Far-East Military Tribunal), however, the incarcerated former Prime Minister Hiranuma Kiichirô and former Army Minister Araki Sadao, made a petition, pleading through attorney Kiyose Ichirô and others that “Universal Brotherhood” was a moral objective — a principle expressing the universality of man — and nothing more. It was a phrase that had nothing to do with any expression of aggression.
As an ally of Nazi Germany, Japan cooperated militarily and diplomatically, but definitely not with the idea of anti-Semitism. The
Japanese firmly believed, and acted on, the spirit behind the ideal of the founding of the Japanese state of “Universal Brotherhood” — that is, the acceptance of Imperial will and acting in accord with it was the active principal of the Japanese people.
Profile: Uesugi Chitoshi
Mr. Uesugi was born the third son of a Shinto priest in the city of Hida in Gifu Prefecture in 1927. After graduating from Kokugakuin University with a degree in history, he worked for 37 years as a high school social studies teacher. He retired in 1988. From the time he was a high school teacher, he was attached to the Japanese Teachers’ Association, an educational study organization, and undertook various studies and carried out awareness programs to correct left-wing educational tendencies.
In particular, he undertook the responsibility of laboring for the alteration of the Japanese Education Act, publishing Discourses on Amending the Japanese Education Act (Japanese Teachers’ Library) in 1980, and Points of Contention with the Japanese Education Act (Yoshimoto Co.) in 1984. In addition, he wrote a six-part series called “Dear Hiroshima Board of Education” in the magazine Seiron, starting in September of 1997, raising questions about criticism of Japan’s national flag and anthem in the educational milieu. The series received considerable feedback and created something of a
controversy, and served as an impetus to the establishment in 2002 of the National Flag and Anthem Law. He published The “Hinomaru” and “Kimigayo” Seen as Our Supreme Embodiment: the World’s National Flags and Anthems (Japanese Law and Culture Studies Center) in 1991 concerning the problem.
He has written many other works primarily concentrating on historical problems.
Important works among them are Verifying the “Comfort Women” (Zenbô Co.) in 1993, The Whole Story of the Comfort Women Problem (Kokumin Kaikan Library) in 1994, Recapping the School Textbook Controversy and Educational Judgement (Yoshimoto Co.) in 1990, The Great East Asia War as a War of Conflicting Cultures (Zenbô Co.) in
1995, and Jewish Refugees and The Whole World Under One Roof (Tenden Co.) in 2002.