Chiune Sugihara Forest Razed for Apartment Building

Chiune Sugihara.

A grove of trees that was planted in Israel to commemorate the courageous actions of a Japanese diplomat — who was responsible for saving numerous Jews from the perils of the Holocaust — was razed, and the land was then rezoned as a site for constructing a building. On Wednesday, Haaretz reported the site of the  Forest near Beit Shemesh was destroyed, and in its place an apartment building is being erected.

Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese ambassador to Lithuania in 1940, was instrumental in saving approximately 6,000 Lithuanian Jews by dispensing visas for those desperately seeking to leave Europe before the onslaught of the Nazis. During his stay in Kaunas (Kovno), he printed and stamped 2,000 family visas, thus saving the lives of thousands of Jews by enabling them to flee the country. Included in this group was almost the entire Mirrer Yeshiva, which used his visas to exit Russia and travel through Japan, eventually remaining safely ensconced in Shanghai until the end of the war.

Despite being ordered to cease his activities, it was reported that he continued his lifesaving work even as his train pulled out of the station, as he tossed out the window papers stamped with the seal of the consulate and his own signature, allowing the people to fashion their own visas with which to escape. Upon his returned to the Japanese mainland, he was subsequently fired by the government for his disobedience.

Chiune Sugihara was recognized by the Israeli government as a Righteous Among the Nations in 1985. He refused a monetary award from the Israeli government, but he agreed to accept a scholarship for his son to study in Yerushalayim.

Until Chiune Sugihara’s son Nobuki was 19 years old, he was unaware of what his father did. “My father didn’t tell me anything [about his work in Lithuania] when I was a child,” said Nobuki when he was interviewed by the Israel’s Kan News. Once he was cognizant of his father’s heroic actions, he took the liberty to ask him what his thoughts were while he was doling out the documents. Chiune simply replied, “I only hoped that one or two Jewish refugees would escape from the situation in Europe.”

In 1985, a grove of trees was planted by the Jewish National Fund to commemorate the gallant valor of Sugihara, and the Chiune Sugihara Forest near Beit Shemesh served as a memorial to his life and wartime activities. Yet as the city began to expand, the old site had become unsuitable due to the growth of neighborhoods around it, the forest was cut down to allow the building of an apartment building. David Shor, whose father was saved by Sugihara, expressed his shock at the development.

Chiune Sugihara’s son, Nobuki Sugihara, visited Israel last month with his wife and daughter. A spokesperson for The Jewish National Fund told the newspaper that in the near future, it plans to plant a new forest in the name of Sugihara.