Head of Holocaust Education Center in Fukuyama hopes for action by young people

by Tomomitsu Miyazaki, Senior Staff Writer

With this year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, what is the significance of learning about the Holocaust? What should be expected of young people in Hiroshima with regard to war and peace? In connection with an upcoming session where young people from Hiroshima will report on their recent study tour to Europe, a trip sponsored by the Hiroshima Peace Creation Fund, the Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Makoto Otsuka, 66, a resident of Kyoto and the director general of the Holocaust Education Center in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture. The reporting session of the study tour will take place in Hiroshima on May 31.

Life-changing message

When I visited Israel in 1971, I had the chance to meet Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father. He had a wonderfully kind and humble character. After that, we formed a friendship. He told me to become a person who does something to help build peace. His message changed the rest of my life.

When I served as pastor of the Miyuki Church in Fukuyama in 1995, I established the Holocaust Education Center. It took me several years to collect the items for display by sending letters to people all over the world and visiting concentration camps.

In order for children to gain a better understanding of the Holocaust, I put emphasis on the educational side of the exhibition, because 1.5 million of the over six million victims of the Holocaust were children like Anne Frank.

The meaning of life

The Holocaust has made us contemplate, profoundly, the meaning of life for human beings. In her diary, Anne wondered why human beings are not able to get along with one another and live in peace. Seventy years later, this question still weighs on our minds, taking on new significance.

Human weakness hasn’t changed in 70 years, from the time Anne lived and died in the Holocaust. We are still prone to pass judgments based on stereotyped notions or prejudice. For instance, after the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, the biased idea that all Muslims must be terrorists spread widely among the public, despite the fact that only a small number of Muslims were involved in such terrorist acts. I consider this is a dangerous way of thinking that could result in terrible events like the Holocaust.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two A-bombed locations, experienced an ordeal similar to the Holocaust where people’s lives were stolen away in such a tragic manner. We have to think about how we can hand down these experiences. But like the situation with the A-bomb survivors, the number of survivors of the Nazi concentration camps is declining. This year is an important milestone, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Unless young people take action this year, and convey this past to the public, people will simply brush off these tragedies as historical events.

I find it significant that young people in Hiroshima are taking action, as in the study tour. Even when Hiroshima and Nagasaki send out their messages, Asian nations aren’t inclined to listen carefully because, in my opinion, these countries hold the preconception that Japan has ignored its wartime aggression.

Deepen their learning

It is vital, I think, to not only make appeals based on our own sufferings, but to broaden our perspective, too. We need to demonstrate our attitude by also turning our attention to tragedies in foreign lands, including the Holocaust.

I hope the young students who took part in the tour move forward with their next steps. I would like them to go beyond the knowledge they have already acquired and deepen their learning as much as they can. They shouldn’t be content with vague resolutions. They should go to places across Japan and share what they have learned to spark the interest of other youth. Like Otto Frank’s message to me in the past, I hope young people will take concrete action for the future.


Makoto Otsuka
Born in the city of Kyoto in 1949, Mr. Otsuka graduated from a religious school in Kyoto and went to Israel for language study. After serving at a church in Kyotanabe City, Kyoto Prefecture, he became pastor of the Miyuki Church of Congregation of Jesus in 1990 and served there for 19 years. He established the first Holocaust Education Center in Japan in 1995 and took up the post of director general. He has been the head pastor of the Sagano Church in Kyoto since 2009.

Holocaust Education Center
In 1995, the 50th anniversary of World War II, the center was established on the premises of the Miyuki Church of Congregation of Jesus in Fukuyama to pass on the tragedy of the Holocaust by Nazi Germany to younger generations. The church’s pastor, Makoto Otsuka, was appointed director general and made diligent efforts to collect items for display. In 2007, a new two-story building with a steel frame, consisting of 810 square meters, was constructed near the old building. About 1000 materials and books are on display. The facility also has a replica of the secret room in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where Anne Frank hid and wrote her diary. The Holocaust Education Center has attracted about 141,000 visitors since it opened.

(Originally published on May 25, 2015)