Sugihara statue dedicated in L.A.'s Little Tokyo.
A bronze statue of Chiune Sugihara, the late Japanese diplomat credited with rescuing thousands of Jews from the Holocaust by issuing them exit visas from his post in Lithuania, was dedicated Friday in the Little Tokyo district in downtown Los Angeles.
The unveiling and dedication ceremony was attended by Sugihara's son Chiaki Sugihara, 64, who came from Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, as well as consuls from Japan, Israel and Lithuania, and Los Angeles city officials.
''I'm very honored to be here for the unveiling of the statue of my father,'' Chiaki Sugihara said. ''I want them to realize and know how cruel the world is. I want you all to think about it when you see my father's statue.''
Chiune Sugihara directly disobeyed the Japanese government and stamped visas for thousands of Jews so they could travel from Europe, transit through Japan and eventually settle in other countries, when he was the consul general in the then Lithuanian capital of Kuanas from 1938 to 1940.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has estimated that Chiune Sugihara issued transit visas for about 6,000 Jews and that around 40,000 descendants of the Jewish refugees are alive today because of his actions.
''Anyone who saves a single life, it is as if they save an entire world,'' said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in quoting the Talmud, the authoritative body of Jewish tradition. Cooper said he regards Sugihara as a ''great hero for the ages.''
Cooper recalls that when Sugihara's widow Yukiko traveled to Jerusalem in 1998, she was met by tearful survivors who showed her the yellowing visas that her husband had signed.
At the ceremony, Sugihara's son also remembered his father as a person who never raised his voice or hands to his children.
Chiaki Sugihara also remembers his father saying, ''I could disobey the government but I could not disobey God,'' when referring to the decision in Lithuania that ultimately cost him his diplomatic career.
Ramon Velazco, 28, a sculptor who designed the statue, studied photos of Sugihara taken during the 1940s to capture his image at that time.
The life-size statue depicts Sugihara seated on a bench, holding a visa in his hand.
Sugihara returned to Tokyo in 1947 and was asked to submit his resignation for defying government policy. He died at the age of 86 in July 1986 in Kanagawa.
The Japanese government honored him on the centennial of his birth in 2000. Sugihara is referred to in Japan as the ''Japanese Schindler,'' after Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who worked to save Jews during World War II on whose life the 1993 movie ''Schindler's List'' was based.