Asahi Shimbun , Jan. 26, 2012
My View Point
Courage to Face the History: Apology for former POWs

Kinue Tokudome
Journalist
Executive Director,
Website: US-Japan Dialogue on POWs

“Please tell us how our wartime colleagues treated you.  We want to learn, too.”  For the two former American POWs who visited Japan Metals & Chemicals Co. (JMC)’s Takaoka Works (Toyama prefecture) last October, Director Takashi Toriyama’s words sounded as if they were wiping away their pain that they had not been able to forget for 66 years.

Mr. Harold Bergbower (91) and Mr. James Collier (88) were among the seven former American POWs invited to Japan by the Foreign Ministry.  It was during the Pacific War in September of 1944, that the two men first set foot on Takaoka. One hundred and fifty American POWs were brought here from the Philippines to become forced laborers for JMC’s predecessor company, Hokkai Denka Kogyo.

Already weakened POWs were forced to perform dangerous work near open furnaces.  Food and medicine were not adequate and thirteen POWs died by the end of the war.

I accompanied the two former POWs who traveled a long distance to visit Takaoka.  Mr. Toriyama welcomed them and started the conversation by saying, “My late father was also a Siberian internee and I felt as if you were my own father when I received the request on your visit from the Foreign Ministry.”

Ms. Debra Bergbower-Grunwald, the daughter of Mr. Bergbower, described what followed this initial exchange at a press conference in Tokyo a few days later.

I saw friendship that happened between generations, between the generation from the Japan Metals Company and these two former POWs, sitting down at a small table, drawing a diagram, and discussing what the camp history was in 1944.  And those men laughing and talking and communicating. That was where the friendship was.  And that peace of mind helped and is helping my father at the age of 91.  I want to thank the Japanese government for helping my father with this.

During WWII, nearly 36,000 Allied POWs were held at approximately 130 POW camps throughout Japan and forced to work for more than 60 Japanese companies. About 10% of them died in Japan. However, companies like Japan Metals & Chemicals, which are willing to welcome former POWs, are the exception. Most companies that enslaved POWs have not even acknowledged their use of POWs as forced laborers.

A resolution has been introduced in US Congress requesting that the Government of Japan respect the wishes and sensibilities of the United States former prisoners of war by encouraging those Japanese companies to do the right thing.

President of POWs' Descendants Group also submitted a written testimony for the hearing on California High Speed Rail held last month by the House of Representatives, asking those Japanese companies that are planning to bid for the project to respect their father’s dignity by acknowledging the history of POW forced labor and apologizing for it.

Former American POWs are not asking for compensation.  The only thing they wish is to restore their dignity while they are alive and to have their history remembered by future generations. I hope that those Japanese companies that enslaved them will have the courage to face the history. There is not much time left.