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Uzbek’s museum keeps memories of Japanese prisoners in Soviet camps alive

by

Kyodo

Documents on Japanese captives sent off to Soviet labor camps after the war are being displayed at a self-funded museum in Tashkent owned by an Uzbek man who spent nearly 20 years building it.

“It is part of our history that Japanese people lived in our country,” 71-year-old Jalil Sultanov said in a speech in Tokyo while visiting Japan in January.

The museum “serves as a bridge of peace and friendship between the two nations,” he said.

Last October, Sultanov was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s guide during a visit to a cemetery for Japanese detainees on the outskirts of Tashkent.

Abe then invited Sultanov to Japan, expressing gratitude for the Uzbek’s efforts researching the Japanese detainees and collecting documents on them. About 25,000 Japanese men were detained in labor camps in the former republic of the now-defunct Soviet Union.

In his speech in Tokyo, Sultanov said Japanese prisoners helped build dams, factories, power stations and other facilities all over Uzbekistan.

Sultanov was a boy who loved history and developed an interest in the detainees when he learned they contributed to building a power transmission tower on his neighbor’s premises and that residents offered them food in return.

While working as an engineer, Sultanov collected records on them and talked to former prisoners who visited Uzbekistan to remember their grueling days at the labor camps.

He also obtained documents that had long been classified but were disclosed in the wake of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Sultanov first built the museum at his house in 1998, exhibiting photographs of Japanese prisoners and the pictures they drew. Other items on display included spoons they made out of scrap iron, and cradles and beds they made as gifts for Uzbeks.

To secure more space, he bought an old house last year and moved the museum there.

Explaining that he knows many former Japanese detainees who made it back alive, Sultanov said, “Every morning when I open the museum, I talk to them in their pictures and say ‘Hello my friends.’ ”

As for the museum’s future, he said his children and grandchildren have promised to take care of the museum.

One of his grandchildren, a high school girl, is learning Japanese in Uzbekistan.