A French writer chronicles the efforts of Japanese-American soldiers to free Jews from World War II concentration camps
AN OAHU writer's new book focuses on the role of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in liberating Jewish prisoners from a Dachau concentration camp.
Pierre Moulin, a former French resident who lives in Nanakuli, has spent more than three decades writing about the exploits of the nisei, or second-generation Japanese-American, soldiers. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team freed his hometown of Bruyeres in northern France in 1945.
His sixth book is titled "Dachau, Holocaust and the U.S. Samurais."
Ted Tsukiyama, a World War II veteran and noted historian on the wartime exploits of the 442nd and Military Intelligence Service, said a small controversy has developed since the end of the war about whether the nisei soldiers were the first liberators of Dachau concentration camp.
Tsukiyama said the controversy centers around the use of the word "Dachau."
"'Dachau' has two meanings," he said. "One reference deals with the main prison in the town of Dachau. However, the word also refers to a system of prison camps."
Moulin, in his 212-page book, points to Chester Tanaka's book -- "Go For Broke" -- which contained segments of the wartime diary of a 522nd Field Artillery medic, Ichiro Imamura.
In it, Imamura, who is now deceased, noted that on April 29, 1945: "I watched as one of the scouts used his carbine to shoot off the chain that held the prison gate. He said he had just had to open the gate when he saw a couple of the 50 or so prisoners, sprawled on the snow-covered ground, moving weakly. They weren't dead as he had thought.
"When the gates swung open we got our first look at the prisoners, Many of them were Jews. They were wearing black and white striped prison suits and round caps."
Tsukiyama, who helped to compile the history of the 522nd Field Artillery unit, said the nisei soldiers have never tried to take credit for liberating the main Dachau concentration camp. He said what Imamura observed was probably the liberation of one of smaller facilities in the Dachau system.
"The 522nd has unfairly been blamed for exaggerating the facts," said Tsukiyama.
In 1998, Tsukiyama and Fred Hirayama compiled the memoirs of the soldiers of the 522nd in a book titled "Fire For Effect." In that book Tsukiyama said elements of the 42nd, 45th and 20th Armored Divisions liberated the main camp of Dachau.
Moulin maintains that scouts from the 522nd Field Artillery were the first at the gates of the main Dachau camp, but never went in while soldiers of the 45th Division were the first into Dachau's SS camp which was adjacent to the concentration camp. Hours later, Moulin said, soldiers of the 42nd Rainbow Division entered Dachau's main concentration camp.
In his book, Tsukiyama quotes Tadashi Tojo and Robert Sugai of Alpha Battery, members of the 522nd who were assigned to another American unit between April 20-29, 1945, and witnessed a prison compound near Augsburg releasing starved, emaciated and disoriented prisoners.
In an April 2003 Star-Bulletin story, Hirayama and Harry Urada remembered sharing their field rations and clothing with the tattered and starving survivors of the German camp where 30,000 Jews were put to death.
"It was Sosho Kajioka who shot off the lock; he's gone now," said Urada.
"A lot of guys had their reasons not to talk," said Hirayama then. "Their orders were to push for Berlin, and the young soldiers felt they had disobeyed orders by pausing to help. They came home, and not for years did they share their stories of World War II."
In Moulin's book, Hirayama said he and Ray Kunimura visited the camp three days after it was liberated. Inside a crematorium building they found the cremated remains of human bodies.
"This stench gave us nausea, and we could swallow nothing that night," Hirayama said.
Moulin's book outlines the history of Dachau and includes graphic pictures of what occurred there during the war.
The author also traces the history of Japanese Americans from the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor through the arrest, deportation and incarceration of them at 10 internment camps in the United States. Moulin points out that many of these nisei soldiers had family members who were being held behind barbed wire fences and armed guard towers in the United States.
In 1989, Moulin developed the "Peace and Freedom Trail" in the Vosges Mountains where visitors can trace the footsteps of the 442nd, beginning where it first encountered the Germans and ending at the towns of Bruyeres of and Biffontaine.
Moulin's book is published by AuthorHouse. More information is available at www.authorhouse.com.