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Japanese held in Siberia after WWII remembered amid calls to pass on stories

Shoji Niizeki delivers a speech representing the organizers of the gathering, at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Aug. 23, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A gathering paying tribute to Japanese prisoners of war who died in detention in the former Soviet Union after the end of World War II was held at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 23.

The day marked 73 years since the Soviet Union ordered the detention of around 575,000 Japanese soldiers and others in Siberia. Most of the survivors are now in their 90s or older, and only four of them joined the ceremony this year -- the fewest ever -- and passing on their stories remains an urgent task.

The privately operated "Support & Documentation Center for the ex-POWs and Internees by Soviet Russia after the WWII, Japan" (SDCPIS) organized the first gathering in 2003, and this year was the 16th time for it to be held. In attendance were the Kazakhstani ambassador, diplomatic staff from the Russian and Mongolian embassies, as well as survivors and bereaved families. Around 200 participants paid floral tribute to those who lost their lives.

Koichi Ikeda from Osaka Prefecture, who had delivered speeches on behalf of organizers until last year, passed away in February at the age of 97. Shoji Niizeki, 92, from the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Yokohama, spoke in his place. Niizeki had been forced to work for four years after the war in coal mines in Siberia.

"I have seen my friends pass away one after another. Japanese society as a whole should seriously think about and discuss what could be learned (from the internment), and hand this information down, although we can't pass on everything. The governments of Japan, Russia, and other countries involved should disclose what really happened and get to the bottom of the problems and where responsibility lies," Niizeki said.

He demanded that documents left by the Soviet Union on Japanese detainees be investigated and used by the countries that were involved.

(Japanese original by Ken Aoshima, City News Department)

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