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Google Doodle celebrates diplomat who helped Jews flee Europe during WWII

Japan's Chiune Sugihara defied orders to issue visas to thousands of Jewish refugees.

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Chiune Sugihara issued thousands of visas to save Lithuanian Jews during World War II.

Google Doodle

Monday's Google Doodle paid tribute to a Japanese diplomat who sacrificed his career to help Jews escape Lithuania during World War II. Chiune Sugihara was stationed in the Eastern European country as Jewish families sought passage via Japan to Curacao, a Dutch island in the Caribbean in 1939.

He requested permission from his superiors in Tokyo, who told him "absolutely not." In an act of defiance on July 29, 1939, Sugihara started working night and day to hand write at least 6,000 visas allowing people to travel through Japan to other destinations, with some families going on a single visa. His wife, Yukiko, supported his decision and massaged his hands when the constant writing made them ache.

It's estimated with 40,000 people are alive today because of Sugihara efforts.

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The Japanese diplomat allowed Jews to escape war-torn Lithuania.

Petras Malukas / AFP/Getty Images

"I told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs it was a matter of humanity," he said in a 1977 interview "I did not care if I lost my job. Anyone else would have done the same thing if they were in my place."

He was forced to return home to Japan when the consulate closed, but he continued to hand out visas to Jewish people until his train pulled away from Kaunas railway station. Going against orders basically ruined his career and he ended doing menial jobs to support his family.

One of the people Sugihara saved managed to track him down in 1968 and a tree was planted in his honor at Jerusalem's Holocaust Memorial. He was also declared Righteous Among the Nations, an honor given to people who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. 

He died in 1986, and his friends and neighbors only found out about his heroism because the Israeli ambassador led a Jewish delegation to his funeral, according to the Jerusalem Post.

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