The Yomiuri Shimbun With Thursday marking the 74th anniversary of the end of World War II, the number of people who experienced the tragedies of the war has been declining year by year. Amid this situation, a 94-year-old man who was detained in a Siberian labor camp for nearly three years began talking about his harsh experience as a storyteller this year.
“I hope the new era of Reiwa will be peaceful,” he said.
“Three or four people jumped down from a moving freight car. Soviet soldiers suddenly appeared on the rooftop of the car and started firing automatic rifles, and those who got shot fell over one after the other,” said Kinji Murakami of Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture.
Murakami made his debut in July as a storyteller of his wartime experience at the Memorial Museum for Soldiers, Detainees in Siberia, and Postwar Repatriates in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, talking about a scene he witnessed over 70 years ago.
This happened in September 1945, when Murakami was transported from Harbin in the former Manchuria (now the northeastern part of China) to Siberia. After the end of the war, some Japanese people who had gotten on the freight car thinking that they would be able to return to Japan noticed that the car was headed in the opposite direction and attempted to flee, but fell under gunfire.
“It was truly hell. I felt the misery of death while worrying about my family, and of defeat in war,” Murakami said.
After graduating from a commercial school, Murakami joined a company affiliated with the South Manchuria Railway Co. and moved to China. In December 1944, Murakami joined the army at age 19. At war’s end, he was detained in the city of Chita in eastern Siberia and forced to work extracting coal in a narrow mine from morning to evening every day.
The only meal provided to the miners was okayu rice porridge with just a few grains of rice. Every morning when he would get up, he would find his fellow detainees dying one after the other.
“At that time, all I could think about was ‘eat,’ ‘sleep’ and ‘survive.’ I became so indifferent to others that I do not remember the names of the people who died,” Murakami said.
Murakami finally returned to Japan in June 1948, working for an insurance company and other businesses until he reached 70. In February this year, at age 94, he saw a newspaper advertisement for a special exhibition about the detentions in Siberia held at the museum, which he visited. He was asked by a museum official to talk about his experience of detention in Siberia.
Although Murakami had many terrible memories he would have rather not talked about, he accepted the museum’s request, thinking that detention that deprives people of their dignity should not be repeated. In his storytelling, he introduces his own poem, which translates as follows:
“In that extreme Siberian cold, my comrades passed away day after day. With no tears left, I survived those days, without eating or drinking.”
His poem ends with the following lines.
“Today’s happiness is like a dream. I will pass down the tragedy of war to future generations.”
Post-war generations take over
Most war experience storytellers are in their 80s and 90s, so efforts are underway to have members of the post-war generations take over their activities.
In 2016, the National Showa Memorial Museum, which relates the history of the war, and the Historical Materials Hall for the Wounded and Sick Retired Soldiers, both in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, began programs to train war storytellers in their 20s to 50s who have not experienced war. A total of 20 people will begin activities as storytellers this autumn.
Post-war storytellers learned about the situation during wartime by listening to people who experienced air raids, the people wounded and sick during the war, and the war dead’s bereaved relatives.