Tahae Sugita (right), a Japanese-American soldier with the 522nd Field Artillery battalion, stands next to a concentration camp survivor he has just liberated on a death march from Dachau. (Courtesy USHMM/Eric Saul)The Times of Israel | May 29, 2017 | By Rich Tenorio 

Troops who rescued death march survivors honored on 75th anniversary of WWII order that forced Japanese-Americans into camps.

Events across the United States, including in Seattle, are honoring the the Japanese-Americans of the 522nd who rescued Jewish survivors of a Dachau subcamp and death marches.

 

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The soldiers were from a unique American unit — the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It was the only unit in the US armed forces during World War II whose enlisted men were all of Japanese ancestry.

 

Events across the US are honoring the Japanese-Americans of the 522nd who rescued Jewish survivors of a Dachau subcamp and death marches. The brave soldiers’ recognition is tied to another observance of sorts: This year marks 75 years since Executive Order 9066, under which a suspicious US government at war with Japan relocated Japanese-Americans — citizens and non-citizens alike — to sites now called “internment camps.” In an ironic twist, Japanese-Americans who rescued Jews from Dachau often had family members in US “concentration camps,” as they were called back then.

 

On April 30 in Seattle, the 522nd was the subject of “Japanese American Soldiers and the Liberation of Dachau,” the culminating event of a three-part series, “The Holocaust and Japanese American Connections,” initiated by 442nd veteran Tosh Okamoto. Partners included Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity, the Nisei Veterans Committee, the University of Washington Department of American Ethnic Studies, and the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle.

 

“Being a community activist, many of our fellow Americans know about the Holocaust, but few know about the Japanese and [Japanese Americans’] relatively small part in the Holocaust [narrative],” Okamoto, 90, wrote in an email. “[It] seemed to me that the Holocaust horrible story is not getting the interest it should, therefore adding the Japanese part could add to the Holocaust [narrative], in some shape or form.”

 

Okamoto, who did not serve with the 522nd, was a late replacement with the 442nd in war-ravaged Italy in 1945, after the conflict had ended.

 

“I wanted to volunteer, but [my] mother [told] not me to do so,” he wrote. “[My] father had a severe heart attack while we were in what our [government] called ‘relocation centers’ but really were concentration camps. So after Dad recovered [somewhat], I was drafted. Dad was disabled for [the] rest of his life.”

 

The first two events in the Seattle program addressed concentration camps in Europe and the US, as well as Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara, who saved thousands of Lithuanian Jews from the Holocaust.

 

The concluding event coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day. The master of ceremonies was Ken Mochizuki, author of the children’s book “Passage to Freedom: the Sugihara Story.” He was a featured speaker at the Sugihara event.


“Amazingly, the [522nd] event became like a confluence of history, with those in the audience including a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, a woman raised in Amsterdam who knew Anne Frank’s family, and a veteran of the US 42nd Rainbow Division which liberated Dachau’s main camp,” Mochizuki wrote in an email.

 

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