Humanitarians who saved wartime Jews to be commemorated
Two men responsible for saving many thousands of lives in Europe during the Second World War will be honoured this Sunday (January 15) afternoon with an event at the Vancity Theatre.
To commemorate the year that marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Swedish humanitarian and diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, there will be a special 1:30 p.m. screening of the film The Visas That Saved Lives at the Vancity Theatre.
A reception and speeches will follow; both are free and open to the public.
The film tells the story of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, Japanese vice-consul in Lithuania in 1939-40, who defied orders and sacrificed his career and his family's future by writing exit visas for thousands of Jewish refugees prior to the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.
Estimates of the number of lives immediately saved by Sugihara’s actions range from 6,000 to 10,000, and the number of survivors’ descendants alive today are probably about 40,000. In 1985, Israel granted Sugihara and his descendants perpetual citizenship; he died in Japan in 1986.
Wallenberg headed up a mission to rescue Hungarian Jews from Nazi extermination plans. Stationed at the Swedish Legation in Budapest in July 1944, Wallenberg used a variety of methods, including phony passports, safe buildings, threats, bribery, and blackmail, to save as many as 100,000 Jews from Adolf Eichmann’s deportations in only a six-month period.
After the Russian invasion in January 1945, the Soviet commanders, probably suspecting him of espionage, placed Wallenberg under arrest and transported him to the Soviet Union, where they reported he died in prison in 1947. Despite widespread belief that Wallenberg was still alive and imprisoned for decades, the Russians refused to change their story.
His exact fate is unknown to the present day.
Wallenberg became an honorary citizen of Canada (the first to be so designated) in 1985.
Swedish honorary consul Anders Neumuller told the Georgia Straight that the Consulate of Sweden has been hosting this gathering—timed to mark, as near as possible, the date of Wallenberg’s detention—“for about five years now”, ever since a ceremony at a Wallenberg memorial plaque in Queen Elizabeth Park proved very popular.
That popularity means that interested Vancouverites should show up early Sunday afternoon, Neumuller said. “The only dilemma is that the Vancity Theatre only takes about 200 [for the screening]. One doesn’t know from year to year how many are coming. But it has always been full.”
Neumuller said mayor Gregor Robertson has been invited to say a few words but he hasn’t received confirmation about his participation yet. “Otherwise, it will be the deputy mayor.”
At least one of those alive today because of Sugihara’s noble efforts will be in attendance at the reception as well, Neumuller added.
The event is being copresented by the Consulate of Sweden, the Consulate General of Japan, and the Consulate of Lithuania; other sponsors include the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and the Second Generation Group of Vancouver.
The film is in Japanese with English subtitles; viewers must be at least 18 years of age. The Vancity Theatre is located at 1181 Seymour Street.