During the summer of 1940, Sugihara Chiune (1900–1986), the Japanese consul in Lithuania, issued transit visas to several thousand Polish-citizen refugees, mostly Jews. His willingness to do so was instrumental in their departure overseas shortly after the country was taken over by Soviet forces. Almost a year later, as Operation Barbarossa unfolded, the Jewish community in Lithuania, along with the remaining refugees, was brutally annihilated. Decades later, the Israeli state memorial Yad Vashem conferred the title of Righteous Among the Nations on Sugihara, thereby initiating his commemoration as a Holocaust rescuer. Today, Sugihara has become a national hero in Japan and is considered a paragon of virtue in a number of other countries too. This article examines the way Sugihara was transformed from a completely unknown figure into a world-famous symbol of Holocaust-era heroism. It focuses on the transnational mechanisms that facilitated this transformation as well as on the divergent but often also complementary motives in three of the countries most involved in the commemoration: Japan, Israel, and Lithuania. By so doing, this article seeks to uncover the theoretical underpinning of heroism and its memory and the way they are manipulated across cultures.
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