OSWIECIM, POLAND – Takeshi Nakatani, the sole Japanese tour guide at Poland’s national museum dedicated to the Auschwitz Nazi death camp, hopes the Japanese visitors he shows around will gain a good understanding of the suffering of the victims and of the importance and fragility of peace.
Nakatani, born in Kobe in January 1966, studied economics at a university in Japan. Although he was not interested in war-related stories, he remembered someone talking about the Auschwitz camp when he was a small boy.
In 1987, he visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oswiecim during a tour of Poland.
“I was stunned by the intense air of death,” he recalled.
After graduating from university, Nakatani landed a job at a manufacturing company in Japan. But he became so eager to visit Poland again after the end of the Cold War in 1989 that he quit and flew back to the country.
He worked on construction sites or as a restaurant waiter, barely managing to support himself, and later married a woman from Oswiecim.
Learning the Polish language, Nakatani began preparing for a tough examination to become an official tour guide at the museum in order to “support our life,” he said.
He passed the exam and started working at the museum in 1997.
A tour through the museum takes three hours and sometimes he completes three rounds per day. But “I still cannot understand why a tragedy of such magnitude occurred,” he said.
Auschwitz was a network of German Nazi concentration and extermination camps during World War II, consisting of three main camps and 45 satellite camps. An estimated 1.5 million prisoners were killed at Auschwitz, most of them Jewish.
The camp was liberated by Soviet troops on Jan. 27, 1945.
The museum is a place of eulogy and conciliation that draws a large number of German visitors who grieve for the victims, along with Israeli and Polish visitors.
Nakatani said he does not see the museum from the perspective of relations between Japan, China and the Korean Peninsula. But he added, “I hope young Japanese people will take back with them what they have heard and felt here.”
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