Levine (coathor, The Death of an American Jewish Community, 1992; Sociology and Religion/Boston Univ.) seeks to discover a seemingly ordinary man, the extraordinary thing he did, and the lessons to be learned. Raoul Wallenberg, Oscar Schindler, and others have been justly celebrated as selfless gentile saviors of countless Jews during the Holocaust. In recent years, the name of the elusive Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara (a.k.a. ``Sempo Sugiwara'' and ``Sergi Pavelovitch'') has been added to that remarkable roll. Sugihara's widow and son have reported that he rescued 6,000 Jews from certain slaughter. Levine sets the figure at 10,000. No matter. After two generations, numbers go only so far. As one of ``Sugihara's Jews,'' displaying family photos, told the author, ``I am thirty-seven people!'' The rescue operation took place over a few summer days in 1940 in the Lithuanian town of Kovno. There, against all the strictures of his government and of diplomatic convention, the courtly, mysterious Sugihara issued transit visas to anyone who asked. The US consulate and that of Great Britain found reasons not to help the fugitives caught between the Nazis to the west and the Soviets to the east. Only the Dutch were cooperative. On the basis of considerable research, including interviews with survivors, friends, and relatives, official records, and Sugihara's scant memoirs, Levine presents the available facts along with much supposition and tangled, peripheral history. Why did this singular civil servant come to perform an act so selfless as to assure his place in history? Was it a conspiracy of altruism or simply the banality of goodness, as Levine puts it? The question, always worth asking, is unanswerable. Despite an occasional lack of discipline in Levine's telling (including abrupt, inexplicable switches of tense from past to present and back again), Sugihara's story is ultimately a fascinating addition to Holocaust literature and a valuable historical footnote.
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