Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The last Japanese in Kazakhstan.

Earlier today, I stumbled upon this compelling report on Tetsuro Ahiko, a Japanese prisoner of war who was sent to Kazakhstan in 1948 and has remained there ever since. One of several hundred thousand Japanese who were forced to perform hard labor in the Soviet Union after the Second World War, Mr. Ahiko has refused offers of resettlement in Japan and now finds himself very much at home as perhaps the last Japanese in Kazakhstan:
Tetsuro Ahiko has his eyes closed now. The vodka has begun to affect him, and he rocks a little towards the battered cassette player from where the music―a shrill chorus of young girls’ voices―is coming. He starts to sing along under his breath: “Shoulder to shoulder, I walk to school with my brother, thanks to the soldiers… thanks to the soldiers that died for the nation, for the dear nation.” As the last voices die away, the room, in a cramped Soviet flat in a crumbling block in a impoverised town in the middle of the icy, windswept steppes of Kazakhstan, comes back into focus. ”I forgot Japanese,” he says. “But I didn’t forget the songs that I listened to in my childhood.”

This cassette of World War II military songs, long since forgotten as part of a shameful past back in Japan, is one of the handful of tokens he keeps of a life that was snatched away from him one day in 1948, when, instead of repatriating him from his military school on Sakhalin Island, Soviet troops put Mr Ahiko on a train to the Gulag work camps. More than 60 years later, Mr Ahiko is still here.

“Now I’m the same as all the people here,” he says. “I’ve got used to it.”

Tetsuro is the last Japanese man still remaining in Kazakhstan out of the hundreds of thousands Stalin shipped to the most desolate parts of the Soviet Union, putting them to work in mines, in construction, and in factories. More than a tenth of them died due to the brutal working conditions.

“I think all the Japanese have gone back apart from me,” he says. “There was one from Lake Balkhash, who went to Japan because his wife was ill, and there was also one in Almaty. I think there are no other Japanese here now.”
To read the rest of a fascinating story, click here. AMDG.


At 2/10/2011 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shades of Volya Ciszek.

It was only when I read his autobiography as an adult, that I fully understood how awesomely dedicated he was, not having "gone native" while in Siberia.



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