On Feb. 16, I attended a symposium sponsored by Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, and held in Tokyo. Maizuru is a port city on the Sea of Japan. During the postwar period (1945-1958), about 660,000 Japanese were repatriated at Maizuru Port from overseas.

More than two-thirds of these detainees had been detained in the former Soviet Union. The city of Maizuru is now struggling to have memorial articles from that period designated as part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World.

The memorial articles are preserved at Maizuru Repatriation Memorial Museum. One of the more impressive articles is a detainee’s diary on silver birch bark. Since he had neither paper nor pen, he skillfully substituted bark for paper, a torn can for a pen and dissolved charcoal for ink. The detainee was able to bring the diary home with him despite strict inspections.

After World War II, the Soviet Union unlawfully detained some 575,000 Japanese (including many civilians and women) in hundreds of concentration camps in the country. They were forced to labor in severe conditions, sometimes at minus 30 degrees Celsius, on meager rations. As many as 55,000 of them are said to have died miserably without seeing their homeland again.

At the symposium I learned that detention camp survivors are about 90 years old on average. I hope the Memory of the World designation will help more people around the world know such historical facts.

masamichi yabuki

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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