Horror of nameless statistics
2009/8/24Every person has a name. In death, every person leaves behind a life lived in his or her name.
"Nothing causes one deeper despair than to be treated as a mere statistic in death," wrote Yoshiro Ishihara (1915-1977), a poet and survivor of Siberian labor camps where hundreds of thousands of Japanese prisoners of war perished after World War II.
"In death, every person must be identified by his or her own name," Ishihara continued, noting he could never condone the thinking that the horror of a massacre lies only in the number of lives lost.
As someone who survived grueling labor in a frigid Soviet gulag and witnessed many fellow prisoners die as nobodies, Ishihara must have written those words with anger and as a prayer for the repose of their souls.
The same feelings are shared by Tsuneo Murayama, 83, a Niigata Prefecture resident and also a Siberian labor camp survivor who decided to take action.
He spent 11 years researching and identifying the names of 46,300 Japanese who died and compiled his findings in a self-published book in 2007. Titled "Shiberia ni Yukishi Hitobito o Kokusu" (Remembering the persons who perished in Siberia), the tome weighs a hefty 2 kilograms, a veritable "monument of paper."
Murayama had to cross-reference diverse materials to decipher non-Japanese-sounding names on documents provided by Russian authorities.
For instance, he found out that "Kochi Kashonich" was "Kochi Kamekichi."
And once he got the name right, he was able to also determine this person's dates of birth and death as well as the place of burial.
There were times when Murayama wondered if what he was doing was worth the trouble. But he could not stop.
"To be left nameless is tantamount to being denied one's existence," he recalled. "The war and the subsequent internment (in Siberia) shamed those men into anonymity and stripped them of their human dignity."
On the anniversary of the end of World War II on Aug. 15, I thought again of the evil of that war that caused innumerable lives to end up as mere "statistics."
The past is receding inexorably, but we should at least try to turn back the clock on Aug. 15.
There are still many people, living or dead, for whose sake we cannot yet pronounce the Showa Era (1926-1989) over.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 15(IHT/Asahi: August 24,2009)