The Hospital at Zelenodolsk

When twenty of us were made to depart from the gulag in Yelabuga in deep snow in February of 1946, we had to walk in the snow that was two-meter high to catch the train at Kazan station. Then we were taken to the hospital at Zelenodolsk. There, we were interrogated for four months, but I had no idea what the charge there was.

In each train car, there were quite a number of people. All of the men and women in the fur coats and cotton jackets looked very tired and dark. One of them threw a half-used Mahorka to the floor. Major Y in our group picked it up quickly and enjoyed smoking the rest. One of the comrades tried to stop him, but they were not in time. He loved tobacco so much that one or two days without any tobacco must have been similar to starving for food. He was once a Major in the Imperial Army. Why did he have to behave like a beggar? He did not have any shame acting like one. It was such a sad scene for me too, and I felt like directing my anger at someone if I could.

How long did the train ride continue from the Kazan station? The local line was so slow, and it was just rocking right to left in a monotonous manner. In about two hours, the train arrived at a station. I could read the name of the station, Zelenodolsk. The snow was very deep there again. When the guards said “Davai,” twenty of us began to walk in the snow slowly.

The distance from the station to the hospital was not that far. We soon recognized white buildings. When we went through a poorly built wooden door, a crowd of men wearing gowns were walking slowly. We realized that we arrived at a hospital.

The wind was so cold. We had to go through the luggage inspection by the Soviet soldiers again. They were always so inefficient, and made us feel so frustrated. We were constantly watched by the soldiers, and so there was no way to bring in anything. We had a difficult time when the Soviet soldiers found something they wanted in our possession.

In one of the rooms of the hospital, there were twenty beds prepared for us. The room had white walls and was neatly prepared. A German navy Lieutenant, Fritz Habermas was assigned as a “nurse soldier,” but he was mainly in charge of taking care of the Japanese, bringing and providing us three meals every day. I wondered why a German naval officer was arrested by the Soviets. He explained that his ship on a search and destroy mission was sunk during an American air bomb attack and he was thrown into the ocean. After many hours of swimming, he was rescued by a Soviet warship. He belonged to the Kaiser party, but he said his wife did not. He showed a sense of solidarity with us and was very kind and even loyal to us perhaps because of the fact both of our countries used to belong to the Axis powers. His English was not that great, but he was able to converse quite well, and so he communicated with the Japanese in English.

Out of the twenty people who were brought to this hospital all but I were senior officers, I was the only junior officer. It didn’t take any time to finish our meals. No one had any health problems even though we were in a hospital. So the only thing we could do afterwards was to sit around on the beds and just talk to each other. After a while, we decided to take turns and give each other lecturers. I remember General Suga‘s talk about his Jewish research was particularly interesting. He was a military doctor, and was perhaps the director of the army hospital in Koshurei in Manchuria.

His research was very convincing. He went into details and even mentioned his connection with Freemasons. He told us there were many dedicated researchers who were Jews such as General Nobutaka Shitennoji, but most of them did not end their lives normally inside their house. Then someone teased him, “Well then, do you think that may be your destiny too?” He smiled, adjusting his dentures before he spoke, and said, “That may be the case.” Everyone laughed at that time. However, he disappeared from the hospital and I have not heard anything about his return to Japan. Some said he may have died in Khavarobsk. In any case I felt scared because his last words sounded like a prediction.

He had a dictionary of medical terms, which contained Japanese translations of German medical terms. It was too specific to use as a German dictionary, but I borrowed it frequently since it was useful for me.