Two days ago, the French resistance fighter Georges Loinger died at the age of 108. During World War II, he saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish children by smuggling them to safety in Switzerland. As the Washington Post reports:
Mr. Loinger’s smuggling efforts began in earnest in early 1943, as Nazi authorities accelerated their crackdown on Jews living in France. Some 77,000 Jews in the country were killed, primarily at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. With a cover story as a physical-education instructor, Mr. Loinger based his smuggling campaign out of the town of Annemasse, just across the Swiss border. The town’s mayor introduced him to a network of paid smugglers, who ferried many of the children from one side of the border to the other. But it was Mr. Loinger who often did the smuggling himself, evading the Gestapo and sometimes carrying small children on his back. A French Holocaust remembrance group credited him with helping more than 350 children cross into Switzerland, as well as with finding homes for 125 German Jewish children in central France.
Today is the birthday of a courageous man, Chiune Sugihara, who saved thousands of people from the Holocaust. As Wikipedia notes:
Chiune Sugihara (杉原 千畝 Sugihara Chiune, 1 January 1900 – 31 July 1986) was a Japanese government official who served as vice consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania. During the Second World War, Sugihara helped some six thousand Jews flee Europe by issuing transit visas to them so that they could travel through Japanese territory, risking his job and his family’s lives. The fleeing Jews were refugees from German-occupied Western Poland and Soviet-occupied Eastern Poland, as well as residents of Lithuania.
(Soviet-occupied Eastern Poland and Lithuania were later overrun by German armies, resulting in Jews who remained there being exterminated in the Holocaust).
To issue these visas, he had to violate the regulations of the Japanese foreign ministry. They said a visa could only be granted to someone if they had “a visa to a third destination to exit Japan, with no exceptions,” which those fleeing the Holocaust usually lacked. Despite the risks he faced, Sugihara “continued to hand-write visas, reportedly spending 18–20 hours a day on them, producing a normal month’s worth of visas each day,” until September 4, 1940, “when he had to leave his post” due to the closure of the consulate. Sugihara is sometimes referred to as Japan’s Oskar Schindler. (Schindler was a German businessman who saved over 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust, as graphically depicted in the film Schindler’s List).
Happy New Year. May the examples of others inspire us to do something good this year.