Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg are among the most commonly known people who have been recognized as taking extra-ordinary personal risks to help Jews and others targeted for extermination by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Worker’s Party in Germany , 1933-1945.
Perhaps the least well known is a Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara (d. 1986), who only later in life admitted to his own heroic actions, and was recognized in 1985 by the State of Israel with its highest honor. Even less well known is that Sugihara was a convert to Orthodoxy . . .
While the complete story of Sughihara’s involvement in the Orthodox Church is not clear, it had, and in fact, continues to encourage a response in others. In her autobiography, Visas for Life, Sugihara’s wife Yukiko acknowledges that given he had been baptized as an Orthodox Christian she also agreed to be baptized, taking the Christian name Maria, and they were married in February, 1935 in Tokyo.
An article in the Los Angeles Times ( September 21, 2002 ) entitled, “Greek Orthodox Cathedral Is Reaching Beyond Ethnic Roots,” tells the story of the growing interaction between St. Sophia’s Church and the Latino neighborhood where it is located. The pastor, Fr. John Bakas, affirmed that part of the inspiration for him came in 1995 through an invitation from the mayor of Los Angeles to attend a ceremony honoring Sugihara. Learning for the first time about his efforts which had saved the lives of thousands of Jews, Fr. Bakas also heard directly from his family that Sugihara’s actions were “propelled by his faith” as a member of the Orthodox Church. “’Here’s a man who did not take the comfortable road, who reached out beyond himself and did something sacrificial in providing service to others at the expense of himself,’ Fr. John said, tearing up even today as he recounted the story. ‘Sugihara had a tremendous impact on how I perceive my ministry.’”
His family said that Chiune Sugihara’s motivation to save others came from his Russian Orthodox Christian faith.