Ambassador Gilchrist’s Remarks at the Sakura Park Planting Event
Friday, October 23, 2020
Dainų Parkas (Dainai Park), Šiauliai
Mayor Visockas, Mr. Dieliautas, Ambassador Yamasaki, Ambassador Levy, other distinguished guests and friends: Thank you for the opportunity to join you today to plant trees in honor of the memory of Chiune Sugihara.
Sugihara is a remarkable figure in Europe’s World War II history; his courage and persistence in the face of unimaginable violence and suffering reminds us all: The choices we make every day can change lives.
As the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania, I am especially proud to celebrate the life of Sugihara — I am inspired by him, as a fellow diplomat, and as an American I deeply appreciate the impact of his actions on my own country.
As you may know, many families who were saved by Sugihara and by Honorary Dutch Consul Jan Zwartendijk started new lives in the United States.
We, as Americans, Lithuanians, and Japanese are part of the legacy of Sugihara. He is a model of the art of the possible. His legacy cannot be taken for granted. When Sugihara issued the visas that saved 6,000 Jews in defiance of the instructions from his foreign ministry, he did not know how history would judge him. He acted because he knew it was right. We may not be tested as he was, but we, too, have the obligation to act where we can to protect others.
Part of that obligation is also to protect the truth — to examine critically our past, and ourselves. No country’s history is without dark moments, and we cannot succeed in the future when we do not understand our past. These conversations are uncomfortable. In America, we have struggled to address the ramifications of hundreds of years of racism and intolerance. But overcoming that discomfort is the first and smallest step toward creating healing in our societies.
Our common humanity compels us today to talk openly about what happened in places such as Šiauliai and in other cities and towns across Lithuania. Yes, Sugihara saved 6,000 lives. Yes, more than 900 Lithuanians have been recognized as the Righteous Among the Nations for their efforts to save their fellow Lithuanians. But nearly 200,000 Lithuanian citizens — entire families, entire communities — were murdered by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators, simply because they were Jewish.
Tolerating willful ignorance or distortion of this painful history dishonors the memory of Sugihara and others like him. It dishonors the Lithuanians who saved their fellow citizens. Individuals who helped to organize and perpetrate the Holocaust should not be celebrated. When we revere historical figures so completely that we are unable to acknowledge their failings, we dishonor the courage of those who did the right thing. As defenders of democracy, diversity, and human rights, it is incumbent upon us to seek the truth, to celebrate the good works, and to apologize for the wrongs.
This morning’s ceremony reminds us that this work continues every day. In carrying Sugihara’s legacy forward, we embrace what the man stood for, and the ideals he embodied.
With this in mind, I also want to express my deep gratitude to Mr. Karolis Dieliautas, the CEO of Intus Windows – a U.S. company – and to all the INTUS employees who have participated in developing this project to honor Sugihara’s legacy. Your contributions are an excellent reminder of the positive role the private sector can play in the community. We at the U.S. Embassy appreciate the example you set.
Thank you once again for the pleasure of sharing this special occasion with you.