The Greatest Person You’ve Likely Never Heard Of…

While not a fan of Facebook, it’s a good place to post photos of my kids for family to view, a place to keep up on what family and friends are doing, and for getting my photography out there. However, beyond that, I really don’t enjoy it much. I find out about most things there because my wife sees something and tells me. Honestly, I like Instagram where people just seem nicer, that’s a bit strange as well because I don’t know most of the people I follow there. Just post a personal opinion on Facebook and watch how many of your friends suddenly become subject matter experts, Facebook lawyers, Facebook MD’s, and Facebook Political Experts. In less time than you can have a pizza delivered to your front door you’ll see a side of people you didn’t know they had. However, every now and then there’s something incredible like the video of Sir Nicholas Winton being surprised on a BBC Program called That’s Life surrounded by some of the 669 mostly Jewish children now grown up that he’d saved during the Holocaust. If a video like that doesn’t get to you, nothing will. Recently, a Facebook post was forwarded to me by my wife, it was historical and she thought I’d like it. It was about a Japanese man the article claimed was the “Japanese Schindler.” It claimed he saved some 6,000 Jews during the Holocaust, five times more than attributed to Oskar Schindler, the subject of the famous 1993 movie Schindler’s List. If everything in the article were true, it seemed to me that Hollywood had made a movie about the wrong person. Believe me when I say I love history and read about it plenty, but also trust me that you could fill an encyclopedia from A through Z on what I don’t know. It’s a vast subject; however, it seemed that something this big would be more well known.

Chiune “Sempo” Sugihara

The Facebook post, while having a few embellishments, I came to discover was mostly true so I began to read more about this incredible man named Chiune Sugihara. It turns out there had been a movie about Mr. Sugihara entitled, Persona Non Grata in 2015 and a PBS film as well, Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness. Chiune Sugihara “was born to a middle-class family in Japan’s Gifu Prefecture on the main Japanese Island of Honshu on January 1, 1900. Sugihara was also called “Sempo,” which was “an earlier rendition of the Japanese character for part of his formal name.”(1) Chiune, or Sempo, “graduated from high school with top marks.” He later studied English at the Waseda University paying for his “education with part-time work as a longshoreman and tutor.” Chiune spotted a classified ad in which “the Japanese Foreign Ministry was seeking people who wished to study abroad and might be interested in a diplomatic career.” After passing the entrance exam, he went to the Japanese language Institute in Harbin, China where he studied Russian, graduating with honors, and converting to Greek Orthodox Christianity in the process. Harbin, also then called ‘the Oriental Paris,’ opened Chiune’s eyes to the rest of the world. From Harbin he took on a role “with the Japanese-controlled government in Manchuria” and was “promoted to Vice Minister of the Foreign Affairs Department.” This job put him “in line to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Manchuria.” While in this job, Chiune “negotiated the purchase of the Russian-owned Manchurian railroad system by the Japanese” and “saved the Japanese government millions of dollars” but had ” infuriated the Russians.” However, as a sign of things to come, Chiune was “disturbed” by the Japanese government’s policies, the “cruel treatment of the Chinese,” and with that he “resigned his post in protest in 1934.” In 1938 Chiune Sugihara was sent for duty at the Japanese diplomatic office in Helsinki, Finland and by 1939 the Japanese government posted him in Kaunas, Lithuania “to open a one-man consulate” before the opening days of World War Two in September 1939. In late 1939, now the Vice-Consul for the Japanese Empire in Kaunas, Chiune had a random meeting with an 11 year old boy named Solly Ganor in a store. During their conversation, young Solly invited Mr. Sugihara to his family’s celebration of the first night of Chanukah. Chiune, and his wife Yukiko, accepted and spent that night with young Solly’s family with Chiune being touched by “the closeness of the Jewish families and how it reminded him of his family, and of similar Japanese festivals.”

Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara

While in Kaunas, part of Chiune’s job was to “report on Soviet and German war plans.” Once war broke out “the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania” and “ordered all consulates to be closed. Sugihara was almost immediately flooded “with the requests of thousands of Polish Jews fleeing German-occupied Poland.(1) As Nazi forces invaded Poland, waves of Jewish refugees “streamed into Lithuania,” traveling “without possessions or money” and bringing “with them chilling tales of German atrocities against the Jewish population” in Poland. The Lithuanian Jews “continued living normal lives” until the Soviets invaded Lithuania on June 15, 1940 ” At that point things began to worsen and “it was now too late for the Lithuanian Jews to leave for the East.” However, the Soviets “would allow Polish Jews to continue to emigrate out of Lithuania through the Soviet Union if they could obtain certain travel documents.” Thousands of Jewish refugees headed to Kaunas and began to line up outside the gates of the Japanese Consulate building. On a “summer morning in late July 1940,” Vice-Consul Sugihara and his family were “awakened to a crowd of Polish Jewish refugees” at the Consulate gates who were “desperate to flee the approaching Nazis.” They understood well “that their only path lay to the east” and only “if Consul Sugihara would grant them Japanese transit visas.” Their lives were literally in his hands as documents from Sugihara meant “they could obtain Soviet exit visas and race to possible freedom.” Sugihara “was moved by their plight, but he did not have the authority to issue hundreds of visas” on his own without permission from his bosses in Tokyo. He “wired his government three times for permission to issue visas to the Jewish refugees” but was denied each time. Finally, Chiune discussed “the situation with his wife and children” because this was “a difficult decision to make.” He had been “brought up in the strict and traditional discipline of the Japanese.” He was conflicted, while he was a career diplomat who “was bound by the traditional obedience he had been taught all his life,” he was also “a samurai who had been told to help those who were in need.” If he signed the visas, Chiune would likely “be fired and disgraced, and would probably never work for the Japanese government again” resulting in “extreme financial hardship for his family in the future.” Everything he had worked for would be gone. In the end, Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara knew what they had to do, while they “feared for their lives and the lives of their children,” they knew they “could only follow their consciences” and that the “visas would be signed.” These visas were called ‘Visas for Life.’

One of Mr. Sugihara’s ‘Visas for Life”

The decision made by the Sugihara’s to defy the Japanese government was made with no regard for their personal costs and from July 31 to August 28, 1940, the Sugihara’s “sat for endless hours writing and signing visas by hand. Hour after hour, day after day, for these three weeks, they wrote and signed visas.” They produced “over 300 visas a day, which would normally be one month‚Äôs worth of work for the consul. Yukiko also helped him register these visas.” During this time Chiune “did not even stop to eat. His wife supplied him with sandwiches. Sugihara chose not to lose a minute because people were standing in line in front of his consulate day and night for these visas. When some began climbing the compound wall, he came out to calm them down and assure them that he would do is best to help them all.”(2) Over a six week period in the summer of 1940, Sempo “worked 18-hour days, eventually writing out by hand 2,139 transit visas ‚Äď a record only discovered years later in the archives of Japan‚Äôs foreign ministry.(3) “Hundreds of applicants became thousands” and Chiune worked hard to “grant as many visas as possible before being forced to close the consulate and leave Lithuania.”(2) Because Sugihara spoke fluent Russian, he was able “to bargain with Moscow to ensure the Jewish refugees had safe passage through the Soviet Union, as well as the right to leave Vladivostok for Japan. The promise of hard currency earned from the sale of refugees‚Äô travel documents helped the Politburo reach its decision in July 1940. Stalin signed the order approving transit for refugees, which the Soviet document said included Jewish religious (yeshiva) teachers and students, salesmen, lawyers and other liberal professions.” And with that, the Sugihara’s had done all they could do.

Sugihara departed for Berlin on September 1, 1940 and later, during “Soviet army’s march though the Balkans in 1944, the Soviets arrested Sugihara together with other diplomats from enemy nations. Soviet authorities held him and his family, under fairly benign conditions, for the next three years. When Sugihara returned to Japan in 1947, the Foreign Ministry retired him with a small pension as part of a large staff reduction enacted under the American occupation.(3) After the war, Chiune Sugihara moved his family to Fujisawa, Japan and “to support his family he took a series of menial jobs, at one point selling light bulbs door to door.” It turned out that the Sugihara’s were correct in their assumptions some seven years earlier as Chiune’s training and promising diplomatic career were gone. In 1947, “his youngest son, Haruki, died at the age of seven, shortly after their return to Japan.” Sugihara “later began to work for an export company as general manager of a U.S. Military Post Exchange. Utilizing his command of the Russian language, Sugihara went on to work and live a low-key existence in the Soviet Union for sixteen years, while his family stayed in Japan.”(4) Today, “beyond the record of 2,139 names Sugihara filed belatedly to Tokyo months after issuing visas, there is no certainty over how many lives were saved.” Estimates of 6,000 people “comes from assuming each holder of a transit visa travelled with two other people, a wife and child. Other researchers have suggested that 10,000 people were saved.” While Sugihara was recognized by Israel during his lifetime, and his fame grew outside of Japan, he remained a humble man with only a few of the refugees finding him in Japan to thank him. “Despite the publicity given him in Israel and other nations, he remained virtually unknown in his home country. Only when a large Jewish delegation from around the world, including the Israeli ambassador to Japan, attended his funeral, did his neighbors find out what he had done.”(5) Chiune Sugihara died at a hospital in Kamakura, Japan on July 31, 1986. While there is no possible way to know the exact number of people saved by Vice-Consul Sugihara, it is estimated that 100,000 people are alive today because their descendants were issued his Visa for Life during the summer of 1940. (6)

Researching and writing this was a labor of love. Thanks to whoever got this man on Facebook where my wife spotted it. Mr. Sugihara was a rare human being who did the right thing, which was not easy. Not only did the Sugihara’s perform such a great deed that summer, they told practically nobody in Japan; Chiune and Yukiko were the epitome of humble. Finally, When I saw that Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara were buried at the Kamakura Cemetery near where we live in Japan, I had to pay respects to these incredible human beings. Getting to the cemetery was easy, finding the grave was not. In the end, we walked a few miles and thankfully four cemetery employees helped us find Mr. and Mrs. Sugihara’s grave. One of the men offered to take a photo of us by his grave, something I hadn’t planned on. While I do shoot gravestones, I don’t shoot them as a sort of tourist shot and try to be very respectful of my surroundings with a camera. The Sugihara’s were definitely humble people, humble in death as well. Their gravesite is also humble, ordinary in fact, so ordinary that we walked by it once without noticing. When people used to ask me, “if you could go back in time and meet anyone, who would it be?” I used to say it was Louis Armstrong that intrigued me, now it would definitely be Mr. Chiune Sugihara. He gave up practically everything to help people he didn’t know during the summer of 1940 and remained humble for the rest of his life.

Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him for refuge. Do what is right because it is right; and leave it alone. I had to do something.”

– Chiune “Sempo” Sugihara

Works Cited:
1. Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Museum, 1980. Accessed January 6, 2021.

2. Jewish Virtual Library: A Project of AICE. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 1997. Accessed January 6, 2021.

3. Rankin, Jennifer. My father, the quiet hero: how Japan’s Schindler saved 6,000 Jews. London: 2020. Accessed January 6, 2021.

4. Sugihara, Seishiro (2001), Chiune Sugihara and Japan’s Foreign Ministry, between Incompetence and Culpability. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

5. Lee, Dom; Mochizuki, Ken (2003). Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story. New York: Lee & Low Books. ISBN 978-1-58430-157-8.

6.  Liphshiz, Cnaan (23 May 2019). “Holocaust hero Chiune Sugihara’s son sets record straight on his father’s story”Times of Israel. Retrieved 09 January 2021.

Two more pics for expositions!

I recently found out that two of my photos were selected to be shown digitally, this time they are both from special places for me. ¬†I am a lover of history and while I’ve had a few jobs in life, two were great. ¬†The first was as a US Navy Musician for 30 years and the second was as a US History adjunct professor after retiring from the Navy. ¬†In the latter I learned what you’ll hear several people say, it’s not work if you love what you do. ¬†I really miss that job, loved going to work, and loved discussing history. ¬†Both of these photos are at historic locations.

The first photo was taken at Arlington National Cemetery¬†(ANC) in Virginia. ¬†I remember visiting here as a child on a family vacation in the early 1970’s, even then the history amazed me. ¬†However,Snowfall¬†later in life, after having a few friends buried here, it has taken on a different meaning. ¬†Whenever I’d find myself shooting photos at ANC I’d pay my respects if I was in the area. While I loved shooting here, I never took photos of those grieving or burial services and if a procession was passing I put my camera away. ¬†Besides, there’s plenty of other photo opportunities inside this hallowed place given all of historic people buried here. ¬†This photo, Snowfall, of winter graves at Arlington National Cemetery¬†was selected for a digital exposition in Berlin Germany at the BBA Circle at the Mostly White Exposition. ¬†

The second photo today was taken at Colonial Williamsburg, also in Virginia. ¬†This is another place we visited on that seventies family trip and it’s as amazing today as it wasAfter Darkthen. ¬†Frankly, it’s amazing to walk with my wife and girls in the exact same places that I walked with my parents and brother on that trip. ¬†I only hope my girls will visit some day with their children. ¬†This photo of the Governor’s Palace was a night shot that my oldest daughter came along, it’s always more fun when my family is with me. ¬†I don’t think they can say the same… ¬†I’m a pain to be with when I’m shooting and it’s probably worse in a historic place. ¬†About two year prior to when this photo was taken, I visited by myself, and before I knew it an entire day had passed. ¬†Anyway, this night photo, called After Dark, is of the Governor’s Palace¬†and was selected¬†for a digital showing at the Valid World Hall Gallery in Barcelona, Spain in the Dramatic Lighting Exhibit on November 1, 2019.

Many thanks as always to all of you follow this blog and support this thing I do! sig

About this…

Photo:  Windsor in Coronado

Location:  Hotel Del Coronado in Coronado, CA

Date:  January 6, 2016

Camera & Lens:  Canon 6D and 70-300 DO lens

About This Photo: ¬†As a history nut, I love when movies like The King’s Speach refresh memories regarding events like King Edward VIII abdicating the throne to marry a divorced American lady named Wallace Simpson. Rumor has it they met at a magical ball in Coronado, California but there’s a little more to that story. While some believe Wallace Simpson and Edward met at Coronado’s famous Hotel Del Coronado, it simply didn’t happen that way… ¬†Ouch. ¬†My apologies to Coronado and the Hotel Del, but it’s¬†been “documented that the Coronado socialite was, in fact, on a trip to San Francisco when the prince visited Coronado.” So Simpson wasn’t anywhere near the San Diego area when Edward visited Coronado. ¬†DOUBLE OUCH! ¬†The two actually met in the English countryside sometime in 1931 after which time she became his mistress.(1) ¬†Yes, the romantic notion of the twice divorced socialite meeting her prince at a fairy tale ball on the golden shores of Coronado has been reduced to simply meeting in the countryside when “she became his mistress.” Simplified, no ball, they hooked up. Yes, as stated, Simpson had been married before, and that was the sticky part for the Crown. Wallace’s first husband was Earl Winfield Spencer Jr., a Naval Aviator, who was sent with his wife in 1917 to Coronado, CA to report as the first Commanding Officer of Naval Air Station North Island until 1921.(2) ¬†That marriage didn’t last and Wallace would marry one more time before ‘hooking up’ with Edward. Earl Spencer Jr., not to be outdone, was married Not once, not twice, but five times and both possibly believed that old adage of, at first if you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. ¬†So that’s how Wallace Simpson ended up in Coronado, but what does that have to do with my photo at the top of this page? ¬†Hold on kt0s2030dm-FILEID-1.111.38sparky, I’m getting there… When Wallace and Earl arrived in San Diego, they¬†lived for a couple of months near Balboa Park but in January 1918, they moved to Coronado, first roughing it in a suite at the Hotel del Coronado but eventually renting three houses in Coronado.(3) ¬†It’s the house they rented at 1115 Flora Avenue that we’re talking about here, in the photo to the left. ¬†This house was moved from Flora Avenue to the Hotel Del Coronado in 1999 and is now “the social hub” of the “Club at The Del, an exclusive venue for members and Beach Village owners and guests.”(4) ¬†What does that even mean? Simply, it means you ain’t gettin’ in, ever.

The photo at the top of this page, Windsor in Coronado, is that house now standing at the Hotel Del. ¬†I was trying to capture this semi-historic house, or part of it, in a different way that could also show it’s place relative to the Hotel Del Coronado which by the way is the real gem. ¬†I’m not sure what the connection of this house to the Hotel Del Coronado could possibly be beyond perpetuating the myth that these two met at the Hotel Del. Maybe Coronado is just proud of one of their own who became famous? Nope, Wallace was from Baltimore. ¬†Anyway, the truth is that Wallace Simpson briefly lived in this house while married to someone also not from Coronado, who was not the King of England but has a place in US Naval history. ¬†Meanwhile, the City of Coronado can proudly claim that the first Commanding Officer of Naval Air Station North Island is buried nearby at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery with his fifth wife and Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, is buried in a nearby continent at the Royal Burial Ground near Frogmore House in England. This is also where Meghan and Harry will soon live, which also has nothing to do with Coronado. ¬†TRIPLE OUCH and get a band aid for that cut!



Works Cited
1.  Zuniga, Janine. Memories of Windsor. San Diego: San Diego Union-Tribune, [ 2009 ]. (accessed April 13, 2019).

2.  King, Greg. The Duchess of Windsor: The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson. London: Aurum Press, 2000. 79-85.

3.  Larsen, Sharon. The woman who changed royal history. San Diego: San Diego Union-Tribune, 2012. (accessed April 13, 2019).

4.  Club at the Del. Coronado: Hotel Del Coronado. (accessed April 13, 2019).


Euro History 1

Since writing an earlier¬†blog entry about photographing US history locations, the subject of European history and some of my older photos entered my mind. ¬†Again, history combined with photography is my personal perfect storm. ¬†European history is so much more far reaching than that of the US simply because their cities existed when the United States was nothing more than trails and villages from the Pacific to the Atlantic. ¬†To put it in to perspective, numerous European cities are well over a thousand years old, literally these are everywhere. ¬†However, if something is¬†a hundred years old in the USA, we hang a plaque on it… ¬†I mean, comparatively speaking, the ink was still wet on our Declaration of Independence when¬†European history was almost completely¬†written. ¬†Admittedly, I’m nowhere near as handy¬†with European history as I am with good ole’ US history. ¬†This blog page will be more about photos I took in some pretty cool places. ¬†For example, the below photo was taken at the location for the portrait at top of this page entitled Rain by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. ¬†This photo was taken at Edvard Munch’s house in¬†√Ösg√•rdstrand, Norway. ¬†Munch’s most famous painting, called The Scream,¬†sold for almost 120 million dollars in 2012! ¬†Many artists, especially Impressionists painters, went to Norway for the long sunrises and sunsets that allowed for them to paint much longer than the sun would allow in other parts of Europe. ¬†√Ösg√•rdstrand is¬†truly a beautiful place worth seeing.


The VillaWhile living in Italy it was impossible to not notice the history that surrounded me practically everywhere. ¬†There is so much that it is very easy to not notice it sometimes, one can actually become immune to it. ¬†It’s like when you meet someone from Washington DC who has never visited the White House or gone to the Smithsonian… ¬†There would be something like this villa on a lake at left, you’d make a note and look it up when you got home and then understood what it is. ¬†This little villa sits on Lago Fusaro¬†near Naples, Italy and is called¬†Casina Vanvitelliana;¬†it was the royal hunting lodge for the Bourbon Kings of Naples and even had famous musical guests like Mozart and Rossini. ¬†This photo is called The Villa¬†(at left).¬† Also near Naples is a great find for Greek history buffs, it’s the ruins of a Greek city called Paestum that date back to about 500 BC!¬† If you’d like more, I wrote a separate blog post back in February 2014 called The Temples of Paestum. ¬†One thing to consider in some parts of Europe when shooting photos, many locations¬†aren’t fond of tripods. ¬†I was chewed out here in Paestum for using a monopod. ¬†Most churches and archeological site forbid tripods and I’ve heard various reasons. ¬†The temple below is believed to honor Poseidon.
Temple of NeptuneNaples is very unique as it’s not uncommon to see recent history from World War Two standing next to history that is thousands of years old. ¬†Below is a photo of the Abbey at Monte Cassino¬†which has stood here for centuries. ¬†The original building¬†was sacked and destroyed many times in its history and to put European history in to perspective, the first time it was sacked was 700 years before Columbus sailed for the New World and 1700 years before the days of the US Declaration of Independence! ¬†The last time it was sacked was during Allied bombings in 1944. ¬†The abbey, like Europe, has stood the test of time and will leave you with your mouth open should you ever have the chance to visit. ¬†Living in Italy was an incredible experience, I would go back in a minute too. ¬†I would return not just for the incredible history, but the people and the way of life as well.

Abbazia di Montecassino