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January 6, 2004

The Japanese Perspective in 1941: A Newspaper Article on Refugees Arriving in Japan

by Anne Akabori

This article that I am contributing today for The Passport newsletter is about an article that was published in a Japanese vernacular newspaper, the Osho Nippo, in Portland, Oregon, on May 24, 1941.

It is an article that was given to me by a visitor during one of our presentations in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I no longer have the name of the person, who happened to have this article in safe keeping for so many years. To our anonymous donor, our thanks and appreciation for contributing to a bit of history about Consul Sugihara’s rescue and about the recipients of his visa.

Because this article was written in a Japanese language newspaper in Japanese, it was necessary to find some volunteer translator. Fortunately, Rev. and Mrs. Masuno, friends of board member George Matsuoka, enthusiastically offered their services. Due to the impeccable translation done by Rev. and Mrs. Masuno, I was able to more accurately piece together the contents of this article reported in 1941, a year after Chiune Sugihara issued his life saving visas.

Due to differences in vocabulary, sentence structure, nuances of language, etc., there will be certain discrepancies; thus, this translated article should not be regarded as exact to the original Japanese versions.

Because the Japanese of that time were not very familiar with Judaism, Jewish people or their culture, some of the comments made by the reporters may appear insensitive.

The title of the article, translated, is Hundreds of Foreigners Without Home or Country are Landing at Tsuruga Port Seeking Asylum .

Hundreds of people without a country, fleeing from Europe, are landing at Tsuruga Port. These refugees escaped Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railway from Eastern Europe and boarded ships at Vladivostock. From Vladivostock, they crossed the Japan Sea to the port of Tsuruga.

Most of those fleeing are Jews who are seeking refuge in North and South America and in Australia. Most of them are destitute but thankful to have escaped with their lives. Among them are a few intellectuals. They are getting aid and receiving care from Jews and Jewish organizations that live in Kobe and Yokohama. According to some reports, there are as many as 400,000 Jewish refugees who want to go through Japan to other destinations.

On February 13, 345 refugees arrived at Tsuruga Port on the ship, Okusa Maru. Since that date, approximately 300 to 400 people have been landing with each arrival of ships from Vladivostock. Then on May 9, 1941, more arrived on the Harupin Maru. A total of 880 refugees came in that year. The following year, there were 351 in January, 815 in February, and 869 in March. Presently, the total is now 4935 refugees that have arrived.

The following is an observation and description of the refugees without a country.

They started appearing last May in Japan at Tsuruga Port. Originally, most of them hid their true identities by identifying themselves as Polish, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Finnish, Hungarian, etc. As the Nazis' drive to persecute them escalated, they could no longer hide their true identities and, like an avalanche, thousands more came east for refuge.

From Tsuruga Port, they plod wearily to Tsuruga train station and head for Kobe or Yokohama. The majority of the people are from Poland. The others are of unknown nationalities, but most are Jewish refugees from Poland, Lithuania, Norway, Finland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Estonia, and Norway. They appear to be rabbis, lower level government workers, teachers, company workers, students and laborers. None appear to be wealthy or prominent persons. Most are carrying one piece of luggage and are dressed in worn-out clothing.

The Japanese people are very sympathetic to their plight. Whenever they are asked to pose for pictures from a cameraman, most are very cooperative and are happy to wrap their arms around the Japanese women and ask to have their photos taken. Many are observed to attempt to avoid detection and to sneak through without inspection. Their true character is revealed in their cunning attempts to avoid inspection.

A few that are detained, due to lack of improper visas, are sent back to Vladivostock. Many of those that are sent back go back and forth several times, but ultimately through the intervention of Jewish organizations in Kobe and Yokohama are rescued and end up in Japan.

Another section of the article reports with the translated headline, 30,000 Frugal and Eccentric Jewish Refugees Arrive in America from Yokohama.

Landing in America are about 30,000 Jewish refugees from Yokohama. A Mr.Meiburge (spelling?), his brother, and Mr. Mundo who have had a trading company for seven years in Yokohama at Goei-so-Yamashita-Cho, have organized a group that have aided thousands of Jews who landed in Japan. They have helped them with their accommodations, obtaining of visas to America, and even giving funds to the very poor. They have been doing this for about 10 months since the refugees first started coming to Japan. It appears that those fortunate individuals aided by Meiburges and Mundo are German Jews.

The majority of the refugees are having a difficult time and are living in sparse and frugal conditions. Most are staying in second and third class hotels. However, it has been observed that if rooms are not available at the lower class hotels, they do book at first class hotels such as the New Grand. Curiously, it has been observed that those booked at lower class hotels, are vainly giving out their addresses to be at the Grand. They have been observed to leave their lower class hotels each morning and to pick up their mails at the Grand.

Another curiosity is that, in public, they have been observed to eat only bread and water. However, when observed in private situations, they have been observed to feast in unimaginably luxurious fare.

The Jewish refugees are intriguing and difficult to describe. There may be as much as 70 to 80 that are denied entry to America upon crossing the Pacific Ocean. After generations as wanderers, they have persisted tenaciously and take advantage of any opportunities in order to persevere and to adapt to many varied conditions. Presently, Jews can be found living and surviving in 70 countries all over the world.

© 2004 Anne Akabori

Anne Akabori, Chair · 1349 Gagle Way, Sacramento, CA 95831
916-428-7409 · fax 916-428-8884 · email

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