The Righteous and Worthy
In Darkness There Are No Shadows
- Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat helped thousands of Jewish refugees to escape Nazi troops through Japan. Working as consul general in Luthuania at the beginning of World War II, Sugihara defied instructions from Tokyo and issued transit visas to vulnerable Jews
- A little over a decade after Sugihara’s death, his courage and heroism was depicted by another diplomat, Kathryn Bolkovac, an American police officer who was recruited by DynCorp, a US Military Contractor, to serve in post-war Bosnia in 1999 as part of United Nation’s International Police Task Force-Bosnia
- Bolkovac discovered and outed a sex trafficking ring facilitated by and serving DynCorp employees, with the full knowledge of the UN’s top command and US State Department. She was fired from her job when she tried to stop the ring
- Bolkovac, now an authority in human trafficking and slavery, successfully sued DynCorp for unfair dismissal. She documented her story in a book, The Whistleblower, co-authored by Cari Lynn. The book was adapted into a film in 2011 featuring Rachel Weisz as Bolkovac
On the New Years’ day of 1900 in a Japanese rural location called Yaotsu in the district of Gifu, a child was born to an upper-middle and middle class parents. The couple named their new-born son Chiune Sugihara.
Sugihara was more human than very few of us have managed to be. In his life, no rules were needed to be right, moral, ethical or just. Was he rebellious? It could be assumed that he was a true student of Plato of the “good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly…”
His father, Yoshimi Sugihara, had dreamt, hoped and demanded of his son to follow in his footsteps and become a physician. But that was one of the rules the young Sugihara was ready to defy and indeed did. Available records show that the special son deliberately flunked the medical school’s entrance exams by only writing his names on the exam papers. Whether he got a good spanking for this, we may never know. What we however know is that he joined Waseda University where he majored in English Language.
His mastery of the English language led to Sugihara being recruited by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a young age of nineteen. And that was his calling, which he duly responded to.
Of all foreign missions he served, of interest to us was his 1939 posting to Kaunas in Lithuania as Consul-General. Though his superiors in Tokyo may have expected some spying duties, Sugihara found himself in a position of power that could easily determined life or death of a people.
As the Nazis were sweeping through Europe detaining and exterminating as many Jews as they could catch up with, and with most western European countries barring immigration of Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe, Sugihara’s humanity didn’t need to be tested. He knew that his pen had the power to save. He needed to grant the fleeing refugees transit visas.
But being an obedient civil servant, he thrice requested permission from Tokyo to issue the visas. And for each request the response from Tokyo was the same. The final Telegram from Tokyo left no doubt that no further requests on the matter would not have been be treated kindly later:
“CONCERNING TRANSIT VISAS REQUESTED PREVIOUSLY STOP ADVISE ABSOLUTELY NOT TO BE ISSUED ANY TRAVELER NOT HOLDING FIRM END VISA WITH GUARANTEED DEPARTURE EX JAPAN STOP NO EXCEPTIONS STOP NO FURTHER INQUIRIES EXPECTED STOP – SIGN BY K TANAKA FOREIGN MINISTRY TOKYO”
The 1940 invasion of Lithuania by the Soviets did not help matters. As the Germans’ advance eastwards continued undisturbed, the need to do something for the desperate Jews became paramount. Not ready for another Tokyo’s rejection for authorisation to grant transit visas, Sugihara made a local decision to start issuing the visas regardless of the consequences.
When the Soviets ordered all diplomats to leave Kaunas in July 1940, Sugihara and Jan Zwartendijk – a Dutch diplomat – both found excuses to extend their respective stays in Lithuania. These extensions were not for some per diem, but to enable them to issue more visas to desperate Jews.
The two diplomats did not need some conventions or declarations to do the right thing. Neither did they need laws. Like in Sugihara’s case, his bosses back in Tokyo had explicitly barred him from doing any such thing. Historians have documented that during his final days in Kaunas, the Japanese diplomat enlisted the assistance of his wife, Yukiko, to ensure they wrote, granted and issued as many visas as they could manage. As their train left the Kaunas Railways Station, he is documented to have thrown several blank visas with just the consulate’s seal out of the train window.
His recorded final plea as the train rolled away, “Please forgive me. I cannot write anymore. I wish you the best,” goes to show what kind of a person he was. He may have viewed not being able to write anymore as a failure, but to those thousands of Jews and their descendants who have come to be because of his selflessness, he was a hero.
Sugihara who died in 1986 was first human and then a diplomat who never needed some written conventions to do the right thing.
Just over a decade after his death, another ‘diplomat’ surfaced, again in Europe. This was once again during another war, the Bosnia War, described as “the longest and the bloodiest waged on European soil since World War II.” The diplomat here was Kathryn Bolkovac, an American with Croatian roots.
In her book, The Whistleblower, Bolkovac who was a police officer from Lincoln, Nebraska confessed; “I got involved in DynCorp’s first rent-a-cop contract simply by answering an ad. … International Police Task Force – Bosnia … It caught my eye primarily because the salary figure was twice as high as any I had ever seen posted on the police bulletin board: $85,000 a year…”
DynCorp, an entity she had never heard of before the advertisement was calling for US citizens with at least eight years of civilian police experience to join their forces contracted by the US State Department to serve with the UN International Police Task Force, as part of international police monitors in the war-torn former Yugoslavia.
Keen to display some of the American ‘finest’ policing skills to the rest of the world, she resigned from her Lincoln policing duties (that was one of the requirements), packed her bags and headed for Sarajevo. An otherwise presumed peaceful mission turned into her own nightmare that saw her dodge accidents that ‘do happen’.
To most of her American colleagues, some with chequered pasts, she was a party pooper who had to be stopped at all cost. Her own countrymen were baying for her blood... senior State Department officials including the then Ambassador Tom Miller who should have taken steps to protect an American citizen, closed their ears to her cries for the venerable.
She found herself in the deepest end of the seas without a chance to survive. However, she was motivated to live as that was the only way the inconceivable crimes committed against trafficked women could have been exposed.
Backed by a few clean cops (from other countries), she finally managed to get the stories of the victimised women out.
Her investigations in Bosnia uncovered crimes some so heinous that no normal being would look the other way as did UN officials she had reported to. The worst discovery was that UN personnel with full protection of the Vienna Convention – diplomatic immunity - were committing most of these uncovered crimes.
The discovery was just the easiest part for the young diplomat, her decision to do the right thing - report the crimes she had unearthed to the UN top command in Bosnia became like attempting to climb Mt Everest in the middle of winter. Her employer DynCorp, a military contractor, was such a vital component to the US State Department and by extension to the United Nation that it had to be shielded.
In essence, the US State Department had given DynCorp free range to do whatever they wanted as long as parts of the funds channelled through the UN for peace keeping got to benefit some American entities. Bolkovac revealed how most of her countrymen who had landed in Bosnia were not there for police monitoring duties, but for holidays and under-world business deals that included facilitation and protection of human traffickers. DynCorp had indeed exported or enhanced organised crime into Bosnia.
Despite being recognised the world over as an authority on human trafficking and sex slavery, since blowing the whistle on the questionable operations at the UN and DynCorp, she has found difficulties getting long-term employment contracts any international organisations. Her full story is documented in her book, The Whistleblower as well as in the film with the same title starring Rachel Weisz.
DynCorp on the other hand has been landing some very lucrative contracts with the UN; from Sudan, Iraq to Afghanistan. It may not financially be so rewarding to be righteous, but at least our souls are never lost.
Sugihara, Zwartendijk and Bolkovac are our first Righteous and Worthy...
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