Letter for Saturday, September 30, 2017

• Mahalo for ‘Unlikely Liberators’

Mahalo for ‘Unlikely Liberators’

Mahalo nui loa to the Nisei Veterans Legacy Center, its members Bill Wright and Ed Kawamura and all the volunteers who setup, dismantled and served as docents, receptionists and security for the Unlikely Liberators exhibit.

Those who visited the exhibit experienced the emotional, educational and powerful story told by photographs and text of American soldiers of Japanese ancestry. It’s a remarkable story of liberation of Nazi prisoners (Jews) from the Dachau Death March, the main camp and the 123 sub-camps in Germany.

Eric Saul, curator, author and lecturer, documented the encounters between the Jewish prisoners and the Nisei soldiers. He created the exhibit 20 years ago by collecting photographs and personal histories.

For those who missed it, allow me to share it with you.

On Feb. 1, 1943 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order declaring that no American citizen should be denied the right to serve in the military. This paved the way for the creation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It was a unique, segregated military unit.

The 442nd was comprised of parts of various battalions, engineering, medical, infantry and artillery units. It was made up mostly of Nisei (second generation Americans of Japanese ancestry). Its motto was “Go For Broke,” and they did! It was the most decorated military unit for its size in all American history. The Nisei came mostly from Hawaii and some from the Mainland West Coast.

The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion was part of the 442nd. They trained in Wisconsin and Mississippi. They were shipped to Italy where they fought and were ordered north to France and Germany, ending in Dachau, near Munich. They covered 1,100 miles through Germany.

On May 2, 1945, the 522nd stumbled upon 5,000 Jewish prisoners forced to march as Nazis tried to destroy evidence of holocaust at the death camps. The evacuation started with 20,000 prisoners and ended with 5,000. Seventy-five percent died from starvation, exhaustion or were shot and killed when they couldn’t keep up.

The encounter was a very emotional experience. The Nisei didn’t know about the death camps or prisoners. They had never seen such horror before. Human beings of skin and bones – walking skeletons. The prisoners, knowing that Japan was an ally of Hitler, believed this was the end for them when they saw the Oriental faces. As we know now, it was not the end. It was the beginning of their liberation and their freedom!

The exhibit, which focuses on the 522nd at the end of World War I, keeps the conversation alive. Hopefully, by exposing the atrocities of the past we can prevent it from ever happening again!

Jim Jung

Chaplain, American Legion, Post 54

Kapaa

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