"Polish-Japanese Secret Cooperation During World War II: Sugihara Chiune and Polish Intelligence", by Dr. Ewa Palasz-Rutkowska
The March meeting was one of the outstanding occasions of the ASJ, when a near-capacity audience of around 150 gathered in the great hall of OAG House, drawn no doubt by the topicality of the subject, which was reinforced by a "national news brief" in the Japan Times the previous day, announcing the meeting. The meeting was covered by Austrian television, and attended by staff of the Japan Times Weekly, which had recently published a feature article on Sugihara; the Japan Times followed up the meeting by publishing a two-column report on page 2 on March 15th. Dr. Rutkowska expects her paper to he published in Japanese this spring in "Polonoica", and hopes for publication in English in the autumn in "Japan Forum" (Journal of the British Association for Japanese Studies, Oxford University Press).
Dr. Rutkowska's subject, Polish-Japanese cooperation during World War II, mainly concerned intelligence activities, and she began by outlining the difficulties facing a researcher in such a field. As agents keep no notes, their later reconstructions of their activities are necessarily faulty, and some of them adhere to the principle of secrecy, not revealing names even when the need for secrecy has long since passed. Also the practice of releasing state documents after 50 years does not always apply to military documents, especially those concerning intelligence activities. Moreover, in the case of Japan the authorities claim that the archives of that period were either burnt or moved to the U.S.
In 1936 Japan signed an Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany and Italy. In the next three years Hitler's policy of aggrandizement moved inexorably towards war, and the final signal was the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty on August 23rd, 1939. Japan took this as a breach of the Anti-Comintern Pact, and, feeling no longer able to trust its allies, decided to set up an observation post on both Germany and USSR in the form of a consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania. In September Poland was invaded from both sides, and some of the Polish military units in the east crossed the Lithuanian border and were interned. Some escaped from the camps and set up an escape network, in which they were assisted by the head of the Polish intelligence in Lithuania (called Wierzba, 'Willow'), Ludwik Hryncewicz, whose main aim was to get intelligence officers out of the camps. One of these was Lt. Leszek Daszkiewicz, and he established contact with Capt. Alfons Jakubianiec in Kaunas. Meanwhile, with the completion of the German and Soviet occupation of Poland, thousands of refugees poured into Lithuania. However, the Polish legation in Kaunas closed down in protest against the handing over of Polish territory around Vilnius to Lithuania, and it was left to the British and French representatives to look after the refugees. In this they were helped by the Polish intelligence service, who soon extended their cooperation to the newly opened Japanese consulate in Kaunas, and in particular to the Vice-Consul, Sugihara Chiune.
Sugihara, who was fluent in Russian, had previously served in Harbin, and was charge d'affaires in Helsinki before being transferred to Kaunas. He later described his mission in Kaunas as being to discover when Germany was most likely to attack Russia, thus enabling Japan to transfer forces from the Soviet-Manchurian border to the south Pacific. Hryncewicz learnt of these Japanese intelligence operations by getting a Pole placed as a butler in the consulate, and in the spring of 1940 Jakubianiec and Daszkiewicz contacted Sugihara, using the names Kuncewicz and Perz respectively. We have various accounts of what transpired. Sugihara says he used to see them whenever they wished until August of that year, when the consulate had to be closed down; at that point he issued them with Japanese service passports as secretaries of the consulate, and sent them to Germany in his official car. Hryncewicz says he had taken the initiative in this matter because Jakubianiec was in danger; it was agreed that Sugihara would take the two men with him to Germany, where they would then be able to contact Wierzba through the Japanese diplomatic couriers plying between Berlin, Kaunas, Moscow and Tokyo, and Sugihara would also help to transfer packages to Maj. Michal Rybikowski in Stockholm for transmission to the Polish government in exile in London. Daszkiewicz reports that during 1940 he passed to Sugihara information about Soviet troop movements, and that Sugihara knew perfectly well that he and Jakubianiec were involved in military intelligence. Sugihara gave Jakubianiec a Japanese passport in April, but procrastinated over giving one to Daszkiewicz, eventually issuing it in August but backdating it.
Daszkiewicz also reports on Sugihara's issuing of transit visas to Polish refugees. He says Sugihara came up with the idea of sending the refugees via Japan to a small island state off the coast of South America, and he got the honorary consul of that state to agree to issue residence visas, though they both knew that the refugees, once in Japan, would go elsewhere. When the time came, it was the Jews who came in great numbers. The agreed number of visas to be issued was 600, but they issued many more, about 900. Daszkiewicz also suggested making a rubber stamp to facilitate the process, and Sugihara agreed. They made a stamp for him, and also secretly made another for themselves, with which they issued more visas after the closure of the Kaunas consulate, backdating them.
Sugihara's own account of this is as follows. In August (probably in July, actually) the consulate was besieged by refugees wanting transit visas. They were eligible for these if they had visas for the country of final destination, but most of them had not. For ten days he sent fruitless dispatches to Tokyo asking for authorization to issue in any case, but eventually gave up and issued visas on his own responsibility - about 3,500 of them, to the best of his memory - having established that the USSR would also issue transit visas if Japanese ones were issued first. Mrs. Sugihara added, in a conversation with Dr. Rutkowska, that the refugees came because the Dutch consul in Kaunas had the idea of granting them entry visas for Curacao in the then Dutch West Indies, which could only be got to via Japan. She also said that her husband knew that he could lose his job if he was discovered, but was determined to go through with it. He worked from morning till night without a break for several days, knowing that the consulate would soon be closed; towards the end he got very tired, but fortunately he had a strong stamina.
When the consulate was closed, he burned all the documents and moved to the Hotel Metropolis. The consular seal had already been packed, but he continued to issue provisional laissez passers to refugees, writing the last ones at the window of the train taking him to Berlin on September 1st. In Berlin he reported his actions to the ambassador, Kurusu Saburo, who belonged to the pro-American faction in the Foreign Office and did not say a word. Soon after, Sugihara was moved to Prague as consul general, and from there he sent his own report to the Foreign Office, stating that he had issued 2,092 visas. His wife says that he had lost count, as he had stopped writing visa numbers in August, and present-day estimates of the number of Jews who escaped via Japan are in the region of 5,000-6,000.
The man charged with organizing their reception in Japan was the Polish ambassador in Tokyo, Tadeusz Romer, and his unpublished reports to the Polish government in exile make interesting reading. He organized a relief committee, which raised funds from the local Polish and Jewish communities and also from Jewish organizations in America, and found accommodations in Kobe. The embassy worked to get visas to various destination countries, and when it was closed down at the end of 1941 the Japanese transferred the remaining refugees, about 1,000 of them, to Shanghai. Many years after the war, Romer told his cousin, who had collaborated with Dr. Rutkowska in writing the present paper, about an amusing episode. One day thirty people arrived in Tsuruga from Nakhodka with forged visas, all using the same name "Jakub Goldberg" written in the Japanese phonetic "katakana" syllabary. The Japanese were furious, and sent them back to Nakhodka, where they could not disembark as they no longer had Soviet entry visas. For several weeks they sailed to and fro, until Romer finally got the Japanese authorities to allow them to land on condition that they would leave Japan within three weeks, which he arranged with the help of the Dutch and American ambassadors.
Back in Europe, Jakubianiec and Daszkiewicz went on from Berlin to Stockholm, where they got in touch with Rybikowski. There they decided that they would make use of their Japanese service passports to continue intelligence work in Germany, Jakubianiec with the Japanese military attache in Berlin (passing on all information from there to Stockholm), and Daszkiewicz with Sugihara in Prague and, from March 1941, in Konigsberg (in the former East Prussia), where Sugihara, under orders from Ambassador Oshima, opened a consulate general, whose purpose, like that of the old Kaunas consulate, was to provide information about German and Soviet troop movements. Wierzba again arranged to have a Pole working in the Sugihara household, and he was Daszkiewicz's most trusted co-worker. As Germany's preparations for war against the USSR increased, they discovered that the consulate was under observation. Eventually the Germans pressed the Japanese Foreign Office to recall Sugihara as a persona non grata; the consulate was closed down in autumn, 1942, and Sugihara was moved to Bucharest.
In July 1941, the Polish intelligence outpost in Berlin was liquidated by the German counter-intelligence, and Jakubianiec was arrested, and executed in Sachsenhausen in 1945. One reason for this disaster was Jakubianiec's own lack of prudence in his personal relations, and another was the carelessness of the Warsaw members of the network. Daszkiewicz escaped from Konigsberg with Sugihara's help, but this was the end of the cooperation between the Polish and Japanese intelligence services in Germany (Oshima fearing a deterioration in their relations with the Germans), though it continued in Stockholm between the Japanese military attache, Gen. Onodera Makoto, and Rybikowski.
A question time followed, during which many searching questions were put to the speaker, and then the meeting closed with a vote thanks proposed by Rabbi James M. Lebeau, who thanked both the ASJ and Dr. Rutkowska for making available this information about a man of whom he had known nothing prior to coming to Tokyo. This was not the end of the evening's activities, however, as we were treated to a reception hosted by the Polish Ambassador, H.E. Mr. Henryk Lipszyc, and members and visitors lingered on until close to 10:00 pm.
----------------------------------------------------------------------Adapted from "The Asiatic Society of Japan Bulletin No. 4", April 1995, compiled by Hugh Wilkinson