If someone who is rich and powerful comes to you for a favor, you don’t persecute him – you help him. Having such a person indebted to you is a great insurance policy.
There was one nation that did treat the Jews as if they were powerful and rich. The Japanese never had much exposure to Jews, and knew very little about them. In 1919 Japan fought alongside the anti-Semitic White Russians against the Communists. At that time the White Russians introduced the Japanese to the book, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
The Japanese studied the book and, according to all accounts, naively believed its propaganda. Their reaction was immediate and forceful – they formulated a plan to encourage Jewish settlement and investment into Manchuria. People with such wealth and power as the Jews possess, the Japanese determined, are exactly the type of people with whom we want to do business!
The Japanese called their plan for Jewish settlement "The Fugu Plan." The "fugu" is a highly poisonous blowfish. After the toxin-containing organs are painstakingly removed, it is used as a food in Japan, and is considered an exquisite delicacy. If it is not prepared carefully, however, its poison can kill a person.
The Japanese saw the Jews as a nation with highly valuable potential, but, as with the fugu, in order to take advantage of that potential, they had to be extremely careful. Otherwise, the Japanese thought, the plan would backfire and the Jews would annihilate Japan with their awesome power.
The Japanese were allies of the Nazis, yet they allowed thousands of European refugees – including the entire Mirrer Yeshivah – to enter Shanghai and Kobe during World War II. They welcomed these Jews into their country, not because they bore any great love for the Jews, but because they believed that Jews had access to enormous resources and amazingly influential power, which could greatly benefit Japan.
If anti-Semites truly believe that Jews rule the world, why don’t they all relate to Jews like the Japanese did?
The fact that Jews are generally treated as outcasts proves that people do not really believe that Jews are anywhere near as wealthy or powerful as they claim. It proves that anti-Semites do not take their own propaganda seriously.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
INTRODUCTION TO THE CURRENT EDITION
Twenty-five years have passed since The Fugu Plan first appeared. In 1979, so little was known of Japan’s plan to resettle up to a million European Jewish refugees in its puppet state of Manchukuo that the New York Times published a news story about the book. Now, the fugu plan is widely recognized as one of the few positive, if strange, twists in the tortured fate of European Jewry.
Over these years, one person has come to be the human face of the fugu plan: Chiune Sugihara. From November 1939 to September 1940, Sugihara was officially the Japanese consul in Kovno (or "Kaunas"), Lithuania. In reality, Sugihara had been sent to Kovno to gather intelligence about Soviet and German troop movements in the area. Because he was there, however, and because of who he was, Sugihara became one of the crucial players in the fugu plan -- a scheme that, by the war’s end, would save the lives of thousands of Jews, as well as the entire Mir Yeshiva, whose scholars would survive to inspire a new era of Jewish learning in the U.S. and Israel.
Books and articles in English, Japanese, Hebrew and Chinese, running the gamut from scholarly to mass-appeal, are now being written about Sugihara – "the Japanese angel". In Japan, the name ‘Sugihara’ has become a symbol of one who takes care of others. His life is the subject of a secondary school English language text. A plaque at the gaimusho, the Japanese Foreign Ministry, commemorates his humanitarianism, in spite of the fact that he had disregarded orders from his superiors. In Israel, Sugihara is honored by Yad Vashem among the "Righteous of the Nations". And in the spring of this year, PBS will air, nationwide, an award-winning documentary, "Conspiracy of Kindness" about Sugihara’s life and the lives of a few of the many people he saved.
Over the past 25 years, we have learned a great deal about this man. Chiune (or Senpo, he used either of two first names) Sugihara was born with the century, on January 1, 1900, and was raised in the bushido/samurai philosophy of his mother’s family. Though his father – in pre-war Japan, the unquestioned authority in such matters -- directed him to study law, Sugihara’s own interests were in foreign languages and cultures. Circumventing his father, he applied to the gaimusho and was sent to Harbin, Manchuria, to study Russian. For the next ten years, Sugihara remained in Manchuria, marrying and later divorcing a Russian woman, and only rarely returning to Japan for brief visits. Starting with his posting to Lithuania in 1939, he spent eight years in Europe, going wherever the gaimusho saw fit to move him: Berlin, Prague, Konigsberg, and finally, at the war’s end, Bucharest, Romania. There, he was arrested by the incoming Soviet forces and, with his wife and three children, interned for two years before being allowed to return to Japan.
In post-war Tokyo, there was little work available for a former, low-level diplomat. Sugihara managed to keep his family together only with small jobs that made use of his language skills. He worked intermittently at the American PX; he served as an announcer for the foreign language bureau of NHK, Japan’s national radio; he free-lanced translation and interpreting services; and finally, in an almost unbelievable quirk of fate, he was hired by a Ginza clothing store whose owner, Anatole Ponve, had been one of the leaders of the Kobe Jewish community which had cared for the ‘Sugihara refugees’ when they first arrived in Japan in 1940. But in spite of seeing Ponve virtually every day, Sugihara never mentioned his own role in the rescue of the Jewish refugees.
I asked him about that a few years before he died.
"I never knew what happened to the refugees," he said. "I never knew if they got past the Soviet Union, if they actually came to Japan, if they ever found safety. I didn’t want to discuss it because perhaps I had only led them to their death. I was afraid to bring it up."
Did he know, I wondered, about the fugu plan?
"I only knew about that when you told me. If I had known, it would have been much easier for me. I wouldn’t have felt the sole burden of responsibility for issuing the visas."
Finally, I asked him the one crucial question: Why did he do it? To the best of anyone’s knowledge, before July 1940 Sugihara had never had any personal contact with Jews. Why, then, did he risk his career and possibly his life to save the lives of these refugees?
He looked at me as if he didn’t really understand the question. "I just did what we as human beings should do. One of my best teachers, in Harbin, once told me: You do the right thing because it is the right thing. Not for gain. Not for recognition. Just because it is the right thing. The refugees were people who needed my help. I could give help to them. It was the right thing to do. That's all."
In the midst of the horror of 1940, it was the extreme good fortune of thousands of Jewish refugees, and tens of thousands of their descendants, that a rare man such as Sugihara was there when their lives depended on it.