National / History

Sapporo preservation group frets over stories of aging Japanese who were held in Siberia after war


A group passing on the experiences of the Japanese detained in Siberia by the former Soviet Union after the war has begun new activities to prepare for a time when none of the dwindling former prisoners will be able to speak about their experiences due to old age.

“When the 80th anniversary of the war’s end is marked, maybe we won’t have detainees,” said Natsuko Tatebe, the 45-year-old head of the Sapporo-based group.

“We can never allow the unjust facts to be forgotten, so as not to waste the lives of those who were detained and died,” she said.

Among the group’s members are 10 former detainees in Hokkaido. The storytellers are aged between 90 and 96.

The group has held 52 lecture events since 2015 and attracted over 1,800 participants, but some of them are starting to have medical and memory problems, Tatebe said.

Since June last year, Tatebe has been giving lectures that include a kamishibai (picture-card) show and a PowerPoint presentation to explain the ex-prisoners’ experiences.

In February, she started a program at a radio station to pass on their experiences twice every month.

On Sunday, the group held its first gathering to mourn past victims at a cenotaph in Sapporo. A similar event hosted by another group ended in 2016 because the former detainees were too old.

“I fear that awareness (of the Siberia detentions) may weaken if there is no formal annual gathering,” Tatebe said.

Her group also records the speeches of the former detainees on DVDs and compact discs. “Nothing is better than the voices of the detainees,” she said.

Tatebe started the activities after hearing Sapporo resident Fumio Jinba, 93 , describe his detainee experience in 2010.

“The issue of the remains (of the war dead) is still unresolved, and young people may feel this is like a fairy tale, but the war has not ended,” Jinba said.

“It’s a shame that I can’t keep on speaking about my experience. I want more people to take over from me,” he said.

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