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HOLOCAUST EDUCATION AND GENOCIDE PREVENTION

Japan

Japan

Japan is part of the Asia group , which also includes India, China, Mongolia,, the Korean peninsula, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. Australia and New Zealand, though geographically close, are treated separately because their history as European settler societies has led to unique implications with regard to understandings of the Holocaust.

In JAPAN, widespread awareness of the Holocaust dates to at least 1952, when Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl was translated into Japanese. The book was an immediate bestseller. A million copies were sold in 12 years, with three million sold by 1990. According to Tetsu Kohno, writing in 1996, “no public library in Japan lacks a copy or two of Anne Frank’s diary[,] and the book continues to sell briskly.” read more

Further, “the dramatized version has been included in the repertoire of not a few high school and college theatrical clubs.”  The Anne Frank House has been partnering with Japanese organizations since the 1950s to bring traveling exhibitions across Japan, and the country features three Holocaust remembrance sites: the Holocaust Education Center in Hiroshima (opened in 1995), the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center (established in 1998), and the Auschwitz Peace Museum in Shioya (opened in 2000). 

The Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center is of particular interest because of a landmark project undertaken by museum Director Fumiko Ishioka. The story, chronicled by Karen Levine’s young adult book Hana’s Suitcase, began when Ishioka borrowed several artifacts that belonged to an unknown Czech girl who died in Auschwitz. Ishioka’s students at the museum were curious about the name on the suitcase, Hana Brady, and their curiosity inspired Ishioka to track down the former owner of the luggage. Levine’s moving book reconstructs the parallel stories of Hana’s fate and Ishioka’s attempts to find out what happened to her.  The exhibit based on Hana Brady, titled “The Holocaust Seen through Children’s Eyes,” had reached 60,000 people by 2003.

Interest in the Holocaust increased after the international release of Schindler’s List (1993), which in turn brought attention to the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara who saved 6,000 Jews during the war. Japanese education programs have succeeded in reaching a significant part of the population. Over 100,000 people, including 45,000 school children, have visited the Holocaust Education Center in Hiroshima.  Japanese Holocaust education initiatives have also succeeded quite well in the implementation of the IHRA’s suggestion to “help students think about the use and abuse of power, and the roles and responsibilities of individuals, organizations, and nations when confronted with human rights violations,” and especially to “help students develop an awareness of the value of diversity in a pluralistic society and encourage[ ] sensitivity to the positions of minorities.”

In spite of clear sympathy in Japanese popular culture for the victims of the Holocaust, a strain of Holocaust denial also exists in Japanese academia. In 1986, for example, Masami Uno published two books, If You Understand the Jews, You Will Understand Japan and If You Understand the Jews, You Will Understand the World, which blamed an international Jewish conspiracy for the state’s economic problems and trade disputes with the US in the 1980s. “Uno argues that the Holocaust is Jewish propaganda and that Hitler and Stalin killed millions of Jews to protect their nations from the Jewish threat. Not surprisingly, Uno quotes extensively from the infamous forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”  These accounts, according to Richard Rubenstein, have “enjoyed an enormous publishing success in Japan.”

William Miles argues that the contradiction between sympathy for the Holocaust’s victims and Holocaust denial stems from the Japanese Imperial Army’s history of brutality in World War II, particularly in Nanjing. “The focus [at Japan’s sites of Holocaust memory] is on sensitizing children to the importance of tolerance rather than to their own country’s history of state-sponsored war crimes.”  Significant evidence supports such a view. The Holocaust Education Center, for instance, articulates its purpose in the context of the assertion that “we learn from history that children have always been victims of the vicious plans of adults … . We hope that the center will contribute in deepening the understandings of the period and will help to enhance awareness for world peace among young people.”  The history of Japanese atrocities in China, the Philippines, and Singapore during World War II has led to popular accounts of the Holocaust that do not identify Holocaust victims as the targets of antisemitic racism but instead as victims of an amorphous intolerance, thus allowing anti-Jewish conspiracy theories to exist alongside sympathetic accounts of Anne Frank.

By focusing so much on the event as a lesson in universal tolerance and not enough on the historical development of the Holocaust and its perpetrators, students are deprived of some of the other benefits, as outlined by the IHRA, of Holocaust education. For example, without “gain[ing] insight into the many historical, social, religious, political, and economic factors that cumulatively resulted in the Holocaust,” students are deprived of “an awareness of the complexity of the historical process and a perspective on how a convergence of factors can contribute to the disintegration of democratic values.”  A deeper understanding of the racism involved in World War II, of course, carries deep implications for the historical understanding of Japan. The fact that Holocaust education in Japan has not engaged extensively with the Holocaust as a historical event has allowed the coexistence of reverence for the Anne Frank narrative and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.  “Among the least understood aspects of Western civilization in Japan,” writes Richard Rubenstein, “have been Judaism and the fate of the Jews during World War II.”

RESOURCES

GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES ON HOLOCAUST EDUCATION: Trends, Patterns, and Practices,  a publication of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and  the Salzburg Global Seminar, 2013
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GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES ON HOLOCAUST EDUCATION: Country updates 2014, published ahead of the Salzburg Global Seminar session Holocaust and Genocide Education: Sharing Experience Across Borders

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LINKS

Holocaust Education Center
http://www.urban.ne.jp/home/hecjpn/indexENGLISH.html
Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center
http://www.ne.jp/asahi/holocaust/tokyo/english_therc.html

Anne Frank House
http://www.annefrank.org/en/Education/Travelling-exhibition/Asia/Japan/
Facing History and Ourselves
http://www.facinghistory.org/search/google/Japan?query=Japan&cx=017322657846632324596%3Aamjybyrq0ea&cof=FORID%3A11&sitesearch=

UNESCO:  Why Teach About the Holocaust?, 2013

FURTHER READING

Levine, Karen. Hana’s Suitcase. Park Ridge: Albert Whitman & Company, 2003. 

Otsuka, Makoto. “The Importance of Holocaust Education in Japan.” Journal of Genocide Research 1 (Sep. 1999): 459-462.

 

FELLOW UPDATE

Fumiko Ishioka, Director, Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center

Fumiko organized the first International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Tokyo in 2015 at the United Nations University. The theme, “Lessons for Today,” was inspired by Fumiko’s experiences at Session 535. Fumiko planned to publish a book on the memorialization of the Holocaust, and wrote that much of the material was inspired by her experience at the Session. 

The webpage for the Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2015: http://npokokoro.wix.com/auschwitz70 

 

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