There were more than 57,500 internees during the Siberian Captivity, and most were men. Many were captured as members of the army who fought during the war, and their experiences happened to them as a group. The fact that Fumiko Sakama, a Japanese woman, also endured life as an internee for ten years totally alone and still made it back to Japan, is astonishing. Why on earth was a single woman forced to go through such an unbelievable destiny? As I began to read this book, I was curious why this happened. This book is about the factual record of one Japanese woman who fought alone risking her life during the ten years of internment experience in Siberia.
Fumiko’s maiden name was Fumiko Akabane. She was born and raised in Dairen in Manchuria. Back then, Manchuria became Manchuko in 1932 and was under Japan’s control. As the second daughter among six siblings, she finished Japanese elementary school, junior high school and women’s school (comparable to the combination of junior high and high school back then). Her elder sister and three brothers went to college back in Japan, but she stayed there because she was very frail due to having pneumonia at the age of 15 and two broken ribs. She decided to take a test given by the Japanese ministry of education to become an English teacher for middle schools without going to college. By doing so, she began to study English on her own in order to become independent. She then succeeded in passing the test at age 23, and also became a Japanese teacher at the Soviet embassy. This is what she wrote on that occasion. “One reason was for income, but the other was for my pride of serving the Soviets as a representative of Japan. We were in the middle of World War II, and the Soviet-Japan relationship was far from friendly. It was, in fact, becoming difficult. Tension was building, but I love teaching Japanese, and I wanted to do a good job once I was in that position”.
I felt compassion when I read this passage since I was also a language teacher. It is a great opportunity for a young girl to work for the purpose of international friendship, utilizing the capability of using a foreign language. As for me, after graduation from college, I joyfully taught English in Tokyo, and taught Japanese after I came to the United States, only half a century after the war ended between Japan and the US. With a new era, Japanese became a foreign language to learn in college, and it seemed to me that I was in the position to contribute to the international efforts to attain peace. If I were also born in Dalian like Fumiko, I would have committed to the same job of teaching Japanese as a foreign language at the Soviet embassy without hesitation.
However, Fumiko was so innocent and pure. She did not know how ugly human beings could be at that time. Overtime, she was sucked into a muddy stream, floating and sinking, and led to an environment where her existence itself may have been lost in the middle of the turmoil she endured. As I kept reading this book, I had the urge to ask “Why?” so many times, as there were so many unreasonable events that kept happening. Fumiko must have felt the same each time. However, she overcome each day’s hardships one at a time without knowing why any of it was happening to her She was exposed to unbelievable shame and the fear of death in the frozen wilderness of Siberia, but she endured it and lived through the path of agony, and finally made it back to Japan. As we live in this modern day, we should never forget such an amazing woman and what she went through. Now that it is seventy years since the end of World War II, and the witnesses of this war leave this earth one by one, this accurate record by Fumiko is left for us to read and learn from her experiences.
The following is a summary I wrote of Fumiko’s experiences in Siberia with excerpts from her own book. It was very meaningful that her book was republished from “Reissuing Dot Com,” which made her book more accessible.