“Hiroshima and the Holocaust”: Students report on study tour to Europe

by Saichi Tomizawa, Hiroyuki Taniguchi, Rie Nii, and Yuji Yamamoto, Staff Writers

A reporting session on a recent study tour to Europe, in which young people from Hiroshima traveled abroad to learn about the Holocaust, was held at the International Conference Center Hiroshima in Naka Ward on May 31. The tour participants, composed of university students and high school students (also serving as junior writers for the Chugoku Shimbun), presented what they observed and learned during the trip and discussed what young people can do to help realize a peaceful world. The session also featured other junior writers describing their news coverage of the 2015 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Participants of the study tour

Junior writers
 Arata Kono, 17, a third-year high school student
 Maiko Hanaoka, 16, a second-year high school student

University students
 Motoki Otsu, 21, a fourth-year student at Hiroshima University of Economics
 Ami Kawata, 20, a third-year student at Hiroshima City University
 Misaki Tanabe, 20, a third-year student at Hiroshima Shudo University
 Yuriko Tsuchie, 19, a second-year student at Hiroshima University
 Fumiko Tokimori, 19, a second-year student at Prefectural University of Hiroshima
 Jun Matsukawa, 20, a third-year student at Hiroshima University

Report on NPT Review Conference

Junior writers
 Shiori Niitani, 16, a second-year high school student
 Nozomi Mizoue, 15, a first-year high school student

Tour participants share impressions (discussion moderated by Uzaemonnaotsuka Toukai, editorial writer at the Chugoku Shimbun)

Please tell us what left the strongest impression on you during the study tour.
Kono: The strongest impression for me was when a Polish man, who was 89 years old and a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, showed me the number that was tattooed on his arm. He was 17 years old back then, the same age I am now. I was shocked by the fact that he suffered such a horrific experience when he was so young.

Hanaoka: He also told us that he was able to survive because he’s Polish. I was surprised once more by how the differences of ethnicity resulted in different fates.

Matsukawa: Close by the Auschwitz concentration camp was the house of the man who ran the camp. He lived with his family in a location that was just a few steps outside his place of work, the concentration camp. I thought it was very odd how this man’s house was located so close to the concentration camp, where people were continuously being killed.

Kawata: I cried when I saw the clothing and shoes of babies that are on display at the former site of the concentration camp. They lost their lives just because they happened to be born Jewish in that era.

Tokimori: When we were preparing for the trip, I saw photos of the victims’ belongings during a study session. But when I saw the heaps of human hair cut from the prisoners’ heads, I was overwhelmed, imagining the sorrow and dread they must have felt.

Otsu: The mayor of Oswiecim, Poland said, “Armed forces are necessary to preserve peace.” His comment highlighted the difference in thinking of the people of Hiroshima.

Kawata: That comment also made me uncomfortable. I assume it comes from Poland’s history of occupation and division. But to prevent war from breaking out, I believe it’s important for us to eliminate bias and discrimination from our minds, which were at the root of the Holocaust, before resorting to weapons. I think this would lead to resolving such conflicts.

Tanabe: When I entered the house in the Netherlands where Anne Frank lived in hiding, the floor made a squeaking sound. I imagined Anne and the other residents had a very hard time because they were forced to creep quietly around the house day after day.

Tsuchie: Anne Frank is known to the whole world, but there are millions of other Jewish people who died in the Holocaust, too. In contrast to Anne, there isn’t even a single photograph of some of the victims. I really felt the horror of the Holocaust.

Did you observe any differences between Auschwitz and Hiroshima? What are your thoughts since returning to Hiroshima?
Matsukawa: At Auschwitz, the guides provide explanation in various languages to suit the visitors. It’s possible to ask questions and receive answers, thereby gaining a deeper understanding of the Holocaust right then and there. I thought this was a good approach.

Tokimori: Peace education starts at a different age. In Hiroshima, it begins around the early grades of elementary school, but in Poland, the students start learning about the Holocaust when they’re fourteen. I assume the reason is because the subject of the Holocaust could be very shocking for younger children. I can’t decide which way is better.

Tsuchie: When I told a friend in Hiroshima about our visit to the house where Anne was hiding, my friend asked, “Who’s Anne?” That person also didn’t know much about the Holocaust. It made me think that we study history in junior high and high school only to prepare for tests. I believe it’s vital that we study history from the perspective that we should never repeat such terrible events as the Holocaust and the atomic bombings.

Kawata: At Anne Frank House, we were told that there are three types of human beings. These include people who help other people in trouble, like the workers at Anne’s father’s company; people who close their eyes to the situation; and people who persecute or discriminate against others. We were asked to become people who will offer help. That message remains in my heart. It seems to me that this great tragedy arose and was sustained because most people back then kept their eyes closed.

What we can do as young people

Based on your experience, tell us what you can do as young people and what you’d like to do going forward.
Otsu: The other day in Hiroshima, a foreign visitor asked me about the cenotaph [the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park], but I wasn’t able to respond. I felt I have to learn more about Hiroshima.

Hanaoka: After I learned about the Holocaust in more depth, I became aware that there must be many things around me that I can learn more about.

Kawata: I joined the tour with mixed feelings because I saw Hiroshima as a victim of the atomic bombing but also Japan as a victimizer of the war era. However, after I heard an Austrian man who works at Anne Frank House say, “Our country also has a history of persecuting the Jewish people, but we have to overcome this and fight against prejudice and discrimination,” I changed my way of thinking. All of us must go beyond this contradiction of being both victims and victimizers, and head down the right path.

Tsuchie: The mayor of Oswiecim told us that the people permitted Hitler to assume power. In the near future, young people in Japan will be able to vote at the age of eighteen. We want young people to be actively involved in politics so that unscrupulous leaders won’t be able to gain power.

Matsukawa: I was struck by the comment from an official at Anne Frank House, who said, “We don’t want visitors to leave here thinking that they have read the diary and can now close the book.” This isn’t the end of the story. It’s important for us to consider what we can do now, moving forward.

Kono: Through our exchanges with people from other countries, I came away thinking that it’s vital to learn about history from broader and more international viewpoints.

Tanabe: I’m proud of my identity as a third-generation A-bomb survivor and I want to continue learning about this history at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum so I can help hand down this tragedy to others. Moreover, I’d like to become a volunteer who can share this information in depth.

Tokimori: “You have to stretch your imagination,” said Takeshi Nakatani, our guide at Auschwitz. I believe it’s important for all of us to clearly imagine what would happen if a nuclear weapon is used now, or if a war breaks out.

Reports on the tour sites

The Holocaust, where people were led away and slaughtered just because they were Jewish, was so horribly irrational. From March 22 to 29, the participants of the study tour visited Holocaust sites and listened closely to the accounts of eyewitnesses. They also interviewed people pursuing efforts to build peace, and exchanged ideas.

by Arata Kono and Maiko Hanaoka

We felt shaken when we visited the former Auschwitz concentration camp and saw, on display in a building still used since that time, countless items left behind by the victims. There were a great many photos of the victims’ faces and huge mounds of their shoes, including children’s shoes. These weren’t just objects; they told about the history of individual human beings.

Railway tracks lead to Birkenau, the second camp. Life or death decisions for the Jewish prisoners, who were packed into cattle cars, were made by doctors right after they arrived. Children and the elderly, who weren’t viewed as a source of labor, were taken straight to gas chambers. The Nazis, we thought, were able to kill the Jews in such a cruel manner because they viewed them not as human beings, but as creatures to exterminate.

One survivor, who is 89, shared his account with us and showed us the number that was tattooed on his left arm when he was brought to the concentration camp. This was evidence of how his dignity, symbolized by his own name, was stripped away. But as he looked back, he told us, “I never gave up hope that I would live.” His words made us feel the strength of human beings.

We exchanged views on peace with young people in Oswiecim, where the former concentration camp is located. With the mayor of Oswiecim, we mutually affirmed the need to continue conveying the tragedy of war to the whole world.

The Netherlands
by Misaki Tanabe and Yuriko Tsuchie

The secret annex where Anne Frank (1929-1945) hid from the Nazis remains in a house in Amsterdam. Anne’s family lived in hiding for about two years to avoid persecution. This house is now a museum and open to the public.

Seeing Anne’s actual diary on display, filled with pages of tiny handwriting, we thought of a girl who had hoped to live. As we stepped on the creaky floor of the building, we realized how hard it must have been to live here in hiding.

“We don’t want visitors to leave the museum thinking that they have read the diary and can now close the book,” a museum official told us, and we took this wish to heart. Seeing this trip as a starting point, we are determined to take over the older generation’s desire for peace and convey this message to others.

Coverage of NPT Review Conference

To cover news surrounding the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), two junior writers from the Chugoku Shimbun traveled to New York for nine days from April 25. They reported on the meetings held at United Nations headquarters, exchanged views with local citizens, and appealed for the importance of making efforts to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Shiori Niitani stressed, “Rather than taking no action, thinking that nuclear abolition can’t be realized anyway, we have to act as long as there’s a possibility that this can be achieved.” Nozomi Mizoue described how the NGO session was one of the official Review Conference events and explained that the strength of NGOs helped bring about the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. “There’s a chance the abolition of nuclear arms could be realized, too,” she said.

Summary of Hiroshima Youth Appeal 2015

On this study tour, we realized keenly how little we actually knew about Japan’s wartime aggression. At museums in Poland and the Netherlands, we encountered people who serve as guides or have responsibility for handing down the memories of the past. At the NPT Review Conference, we were surprised at the strong influence of the NGOs.

Moving forward, we will do our best to speak up first at events, like lectures, to ask questions or make comments. Meanwhile, to learn more about history from various perspectives, we will read books and newspapers, listen to the views of others, and reflect more on our own. In this way, and with the use of imagination, we will gain a deeper understanding of the current state of nuclear weapons in the world. Each one of us has a role to play in building a more peaceful future.

(Originally published on June 1, 2015)

Hiroshima Youth Appeal 2015: Every person has a role to play in building peace

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

As time advances from a day we must never forget, the A-bomb survivors continue to grow older and their numbers are declining. People alive today still have the chance to hear the survivors’ stories first-hand, but there will come a time, in the not too distant future, when this will no longer be possible. Hiroshima, our hometown, continually voices a call to the world for the abolition of nuclear weapons so that this goal can be realized while the survivors are still alive. At the same time, the Japanese government takes the contradictory stance of virtually accepting nuclear arms by clinging to the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

To ensure that we convey the horror of war and nuclear weapons, and the importance of peace, to coming generations, we should all take conscious action. Currently, there are volunteers serving as guides at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. While those with high aspirations are energetically pursuing this volunteer activity, young working people and students find it more difficult to become involved in such activities because of their circumstances.

Meanwhile, Hiroshima provides its students with more opportunities in peace education than in other parts of Japan, but this education still centers on the damage that Japan suffered during the war and does not go far enough in explaining Japan’s aggression at that time in history.

Moreover, when it comes to members of the younger generation, like us, some are actively involved in peace activities but many others aren’t or have no interest in peace issues and politics. When we plumb the depths of our minds, we often find the fact that people hold irrational prejudices or biases toward others they don’t know well, and aren’t willing to accept our differences, which can lead to inappropriate remarks or deeds, like discrimination or bullying.

When we visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, at the site of the former Auschwitz concentration camp, Tsuyoshi Nakatani, the museum’s only official Japanese guide, led our group, replacing an audio guide. We became aware that personal guides play an important role in helping visitors handle emotions that may arise from seeing exhibitions and answering questions. While exchanging views with junior high and high school students in Amsterdam, one junior high student asked, “Doesn’t Japan have responsibility for becoming a victim of the atomic bombings?” We thought we had understood that Japan was also an aggressor during the war, but we felt personally blamed and were unable to find an appropriate response. We became painfully aware of our ignorance.

Also, at the NPT Review Conference, the NGO session was an official U.N. event. Seeing this session, where citizens and representatives of governments can hold discussions on an equal footing, we were surprised to find that NGOs and the voices of citizens have a powerful influence.

Based on these factors, we would like to appeal for the following efforts:

- Accept others’ differences: Don’t become blinkered by a single culture, ethnicity, or nationality.
- Use imagination: Recognize how our words and deeds affect others.
- Be the first to speak up: Don’t hesitate to ask questions or make comments in classes, discussions, or talks.
- Learn about history from various perspectives: Read books and newspapers, listen to others, and think for yourself.
- Try volunteering: It will lead to engaging socially with others.
- Learn more about nuclear weapons in the past and present: Find ways to engage the attention of young people in this area.
- Develop a diversity of people who speak about the Hiroshima A-bombing: Foster an environment where young working people and students can carry on this work as well as human resources to serve as guides on A-bomb issues in multiple languages.

Every person has a role to play in building peace in the world. We hope you will join us in this effort.