3. My Uncle was a Siberian Internee - Experience of My Family

At present in 2020, on the 75th anniversary after WWII ended, the tragedy of approximately 600,000 Japanese men and women who were taken to Siberia has not been told openly outside nor inside Japan, and a lot of the formerly interned have been gone or have become elderly. Therefore, this website was constructed both in Japanese and English as an attempt to inform the facts widely to the people in the world. The immediate motivation was from my family history – my uncle was one of the internees in Siberia. It was a family story.

My deceased uncle, Takeo Kuba (1923-1986) (Takeo Oshima before he was adopted was once a lively and intelligent young boy. For my father, who was a few years older than my uncle, he was one of the cute and loving younger brothers. In 1943, he had to join the 135th infantry division of the Kwantang army as one of the students who was recruited in the middle of their college life. He was majoring in Western Philosophy. According to the documents, he was in the area of Hengdaohezi in Manchuria when the war ended and they were disarmed by the Soviet Army. Then he was taken to Siberia. He was in both the 13th and 14th gulag in Vladivostok. Since he was fluent in German, he made a lot of effort to learn the Russian language and became a translator for the Soviet officers, trying to get out of the miserable life with forced labor. During the seven years of internment, what else happened? Nobody knows, because he did not tell anyone. After he came home, he became a newspaper writer and was a Russian correspondent for a long time. Because I saw this uncle from time to time, words such as “Soviet” or “internment” became familiar to me.

In 1952, uncle Tomoo, a younger brother of uncle Takeo, went to the port of Maizuru in Kyoto prefecture, where he came back to Japan by a ship. He recently told me that his brother’s face was totally different at that time since all of his front teeth had been shot by a bullet and gone. As I remember, uncle Takeo was actively engaged in his work, but somehow, he always had some unknown sadness in his appearance. My father and other siblings were always worried about him. To my surprise, he never wrote anything about his experiences in Siberia even though he was a professional newspaper writer. I remember how my father was always in sadness whenever he thought about uncle Takeo, because he could not do anything for him to make him happier. At age 63, uncle Takeo passed away because due to lung cancer. Later I read that many Siberian internees were forced to work in coal mines for eight hours a day without masks. Inhaling so much dust day after day affected their health, and a lot of them died of lung-related diseases after they made it back to Japan. So my uncle’s death may have been one of those, or perhaps it was due to his smoking. I just want to mention one thing: I was so shocked when I heard that he began to read the Bible again and in his death bed ended his life in appreciation to God right before his passing. He was so pure. In the middle of the hopeless darkness into which he was dragged, a light came to him at the end. What a long time he waited! How could he endure such agony to wait for that moment? I was so saddened and moved at the same time at such a realization, and that has been my motivation for this project.

What happened in WWll will continue to be talked about in the international arena. However, it is important to remember that war starts with highly political judgement by the leaders of nations, and it ends up with the misfortunes of endless numbers of nameless people at a different level.

What really happened to my uncle Takeo in Siberia? What was hidden in his silence? Answers will never come. Therefore, I wondered if I could spend time to learn more and write something – the truth of which he did not speak. I also wondered if I could express the idea that war should never happen in my own words. Thus, my journey to explore the experiences of the Japanese in Siberia began.