iii. 1950.7-1950.12

To a Penal Colony

When she was finally released in July, 1950 Fumiko wrote, “I was at the height of madness when I got the unexpected news. This must have been what people call being ‘on top of the world.’ I had no idea where I was going after getting out of the gulag, but it did not matter. I can get out of here! I will be free! My head was just full of such ideas and I felt as if the blood in my whole body was boiling”. Then she was actually able to go through the fence and fully inhale the air of freedom under the blue sky.

When she was transported from the gulag, she had to endure treatment which would have been considered inhumane to even animals.  However, when arriving in Molinsk Lagel, the night lights of the town gave out a little atmosphere of luxury.  After a checkup with the doctor, she was released from work and she began to live relaxingly, enjoying embroidery in the middle of the day and reading in the evenings. Then she went to the stopping area, Karagas, where she had met Ms. Tanaka before. This time she met a nurse who took care of two Japanese officers at the time of their death.  She was truly moved as she listened to the nurse talking about them with tears streaming down her face. She described, “Not only Ms. Tanaka, but many other Japanese captives must have died in the wilderness of Siberia. When I thought about how lonely they must have been, I felt as if my chest was crushed. However, I felt a little bit of relief when I met a caring Soviet woman like her. She must have comforted the dead and their families a little bit”.

The sixth winter in Siberia was coming soon, but her journey continued.  She was wearing tattered Chinese labor clothes with cotton inside, a hand-made overcoat made from a blanket, and shoes that were almost torn but still protected her feet from frostbite. Luckily, a kind Soviet gave her long boots which were made of felt all over. In addition, she received new work clothes with cotton in it. However, her days continued to be miserable with constant struggles against lice day to day inside the prisoners’ train, and uncomfortable heat disinfection treatments at every transfer point. Even with the heat treatment, her body was constantly itchy all over. 

During that journey, she saw an interesting train. Inside the train, the Soviets were crammed inside. They were the ones whose freedom was taken away, she also saw big bags from which pans and frying pans were sticking out. There were mothers with small children and babies.  That was a miserable train for a whole family who were exiled for political reasons. They were also sent to gulags that were set up all over the Soviet Union. For forty-two years from 1919 to 1950, a great number of Soviet people were arrested for minor infractions and were forced to work in concentration camps. All of the Japanese interned in Siberia, including Fumiko, were deliberately absorbed into the huge organized structure of the Soviet government. There was no way to go against it, and thus, they were all forced into such cruel destinies. 

She had a difficult time protecting her money during the transportation. The little money she made making embroidery and other work really helped because she could buy something delicious from time to time. However, her money was stolen from inside her work clothes where she had sewn the money into the garments.

When they arrived at the city of Krasnoyarsk, the hotel there became just like jail.  She had to rest in the room covered by the smell of excrement. After the first day, it was there she received documents that stated she was to be exiled. The documents read, “Fumiko Akahane is punished with exile. She is ordered to serve the sentence in the district of Dorgomost.  If she attempts to escape from that district, she will be executed based on the law”. 

Her five-year prison term was supposed to have ended and there was no length of exile specified in the document.  Then “proof of exile” was issued for her identification. The only difference was that the train she took to the destination did not have any iron fence and cages like the train for the prisoners. She wrote that she was so happy “as if she was in heaven” because she could sit anywhere and was free to use the toilet. Since the life in exile is very quiet and lonely, men started the selection of their wives right away. There were three middle aged men who were trying to get a beautiful Jewish girl in her thirties, an artisan with a gold tooth who tried to help anyone who needed his help, and those who were trying desperately to look for someone from the same country. Fumiko observed all of them with kind eyes and described them with affection in her book. In the dark life in the Soviet Union where she could not tell if there was any future for her or not, she stayed as a kind and caring person. With and open mine she wrote, “During this trip, I learned that human beings never forget the humor or care for others no matter what kind of fate might visit them”.

In the district of Dorgomost, where she was sent for exile, Fumiko met one older Japanese woman. She was about sixty-four or five, a wife of a shoemaker, and had forgotten almost all the Japanese when she met her. She did not know if the lady had the same destiny as herself or had come into the Soviet Union at the time of the Siberian Intervention. When she received a small piece of rye bread and rice gruel from her, she was filled with happy and fond feelings. Then she had to walk for eighty-five kilometers to the village of Bay, which became her destination. By then she had already made some friends, there were no soldiers on guard, and she was no longer called a criminal. 

Even though she was released at the completion of her five-year prison term, what was waiting for her was this “exile” without term. Fumiko was the only Japanese throughout her prison term, and to learn she would now be exiled without term with still no one to ever speak Japanese to. Although shocked by this turn of events, her ability to keep facing these unwarranted setbacks in unknown territory was extraordinary.