Friendship in the Gulag

I finally went back to Japan in August of 1948 and went back to the ministry of Finance. What has happened to Fritz? I kept thinking about the possibility of meeting him sometime.

At the Japanese embassy in Bonn, there was a secretary working there from the Japanese Ministry of Finance. I gave him his address and asked him to investigate his whereabouts. However, the address itself changed in West Germany, and it was extremely difficult to find out where he was in such a big country just by going by his name.

However, in 1965, Mr. Tadashi Yasuhara who was in Bonn as a First Sectretary from the Ministry of Finance successfully contacted Fritz’s son for me. Ftitz’s only son Peter was adopted and his sur name was changed to Wingender. He chose to do so because his father was reported as missing. Fritz’s wife died during the war, and he remarried a woman whose name was Louise. He had a happy life after that, but passed away because of lung cancer on September 14, 1964. It was eighteen years after the day I saw him in the hospital in Zelenodolsk, and the day I found out about him with the help of Mr. Yasuhara’s investigation was one year after he passed away.

When he contacted me, I was in Frankfurt on a business trip. Brefin, the town where his tomb stone was located about a hundred kilo meters northeast of Dusseldorf. I changed my itinerary and decided to drive from Frankfurt to Dusseldorf, using the autobahn for about six hundred kilo meters. I drove a Benz at a speed of a hundred seventy or eighty kph. At first, it was a bit scary because the cars on the German autobahn tailgated, but after I got used to it, it was a good feeling. I felt I really wanted to arrive at Brefin as soon as possible even though I knew I would not be able to meet Fritz alive.

After I arrived at Brefin, I did not know where his tomb was. I went to the city office to find out. I was asked if he was a catholic or protestant by a middle-aged man working there. I guessed he was a protestant, and I was told the area to look for his grave. The cemetery was so huge that it was not easy to locate where it was.
I decided to visit the florist in front of the main gate of the cemetery, and I found out where he was buried.

The tomb stone with the name Fritz Habermas was dirty, without a single flower. I decided to buy a floral plant and flowers. Then I cleaned his cemetery, planted what I bought, and gave the bouquet of flowers and put my hands together in prayer.

Both his son and his wife lived pretty far from Brefin. I received a letter from Fritz’s second wife, Louise Habermas. In her letter, she indicated how Fritz was frequently talking about me from the time of internment in the Soviet Union and that he kept the Buddha figure I gave him next to him as his important amulet until he died. She also mentioned that she has been cherishing that Buddha as his memento herself.

I wrote to his Peter, his son, about the song he taught me. We were always singing that song, “In meiner heimat” together. I wrote the lyrics, too. Then Peter sent me the score of the song. He said it took him a while to find the score. It was written by Carl Busse, who is famous for his poem that Bin Ueda translated into a famous poem, starting with “Far away in to the sky away from the mountain....”

When I visited Fritz’s grave, the official who told me where to find it talked to the writer of the local newspaper, “Gun Wenner Antzuigel.” I received the clipping of the article written in the paper right after my visit, titled as “friendship born in Gulag” from Fritz’s old friend, Gerhard Schmidt with his letter in it. He said he was always hearing about me from Fritz. Louise and Peter wrote to me to let them know if I ever have another chance to visit his grave. They would like to go with me next time. I hope I can do this some day.

By the way, during three months of stay in Zelenodolsk, I was assigned to be an interpreter of English and Japanese for the Soviet’s investigation. There was a young Russian interpreter who was an assistant of the investigator. Her name was Raiza Mikhailovna, and was a beautiful officer with a unique personality. While the investigator was not there, we used to enjoy chatting. I remember her saying, “ I wish I can walk in Ginza with you one day. I think I will be able to buy many things I want.” She was just like any other woman when she was staring into the catalogues of brand name items of the Western world, published in Moscow. Sometimes I wonder how she is doing.

In a way, the three months in Zelenodolsk was a period of calm and a peaceful time. Except for the problem of constant hunger, I did not have to do any extra work outside, and I could sometimes forget about the fact I was a captive when I was joking and laughing with the nurses.