sugihara lesson plan for educators

The biography of Chiune Sugihara is a compelling story of individual courage and an intriguing window onto a little-known World War II story. Educators can use the film and this Web site to provide students with valuable context for their study of the war, Japan during the early 20th century, and the Holocaust — as well as being a story that offers an unexpected connection between the West and the East.

  1. Have students spend a few minutes browsing the interactive Sugihara Timeline to become familiar with some of the key events in Sugihara's life and the relevant world historical events that took place during the same period. Draw their attention to the world map that accompanies the timeline, highlighting the important places where Sugihara traveled.
  2. Plot the key locations from the Sugihara story on a world map: Lithuania (including Kaunas, now present-day Kovnos), Poland, Romania, Russia, Manchuria, and Japan.
  3. Distribute copies of "Bushido: An Overview" to students, to give them background about the traditional samurai values mentioned in the film as an aspect of Sugihara's upbringing.
  4. Ask students what relationship they think the Japanese and European Jews had before the war.

  1. Describe Sugihara's attitude towards foreigners. How is it different from the attitudes of many of his contemporaries? You may also want to refer to the interviews with historians Carol Gluck and David Kranzler for more information.
  2. How do you think Sugihara's experience in China affected him and his later actions? What do you think motivated him?
  3. Do you agree with the filmmaker's implication that the Bushido code was an important influence on Sugihara and his decision to defy his government? Review the description of Bushido. What are examples from his life where he seems to be following this code? Where he seems to be going against it?
  4. Split the class into groups. Have each group focus on an individual who defied the Nazis and attempted to save Jews during the Holocaust, including Chiune Sugihara, Oskar Schindler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Per Anger, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Pastor Andre Trocme, and Raoul Wallenberg. Have each group present their subject to the class. As a class compare the different individuals' motivations, actions, methods, etc. Are there any commonalities? For students studying Sugihara (if they have not seen the film), they can watch a 12-minute video clip, read a short biography of Sugihara, read and watch interviews with Solly Ganor and Nadia Kaplan, and use an interactive timeline of Sugihara's life on this Web site.
  5. Carol Gluck, George Sansom professor of history at Columbia University, has some opinions about the Sugihara story that differ from that of the film. For example, she does not believe the Bushido code had an impact on Sugihara's motivation and she has a different idea about the downward spiral of his career. Balancing differing viewpoints is often a challenge for both filmmakers and historians. Have students read the interview with Carol Gluck and discuss these differences. What evidence do the filmmakers present to support their point of view? What about Prof. Gluck? What information would you need to make a decision about which viewpoint was correct? Read the interview with David Kranzler for another explanation of what motivated Sugihara.
  6. The story of Chiune Sugihara beautifully illustrates how one person can make a difference. Often people get overwhelmed by the size of a problem and do nothing, and yet each effort can have an impact, no matter how small. Break the class into pairs. Have each pair choose an issue that they care about and do background research about it. Then have them map out a series of strategies and small steps they can take that could have an impact on that issue. Each pair should then present their issue and action plan to the class. Then just do it! Have students keep journals of their experiences, and give periodic updates to the class about their progress.
  7. Many refugee problems persist throughout the world, due to war, politics, famine, environmental disasters, etc. Choose a current refugee group to study. Where are they from? How many are there? Where are they currently living? What led to their status? What's being done to aid them? Who is active? Who is not? Why?