Wednesday, July 15, 1998

Photo from "Fire for Effect"

American troops of Japanese descent assemble at Iolani Palace
In "Fire for Effect," soldiers describe what they witnessed in
World War II in Europe.

552nd vets
bear witness to
Dachau horror

A moving exhibit at
UH features the isle veterans
and their awful discoveries

By Gregg K. Kakesako


"To this day, there are some who are beginning to say Dachau never happened, and there'll be those who will try to distort things in the future, too. But we were there, and we saw it. We saw the camp with our own eyes. We saw the people with our own eyes. And so if anybody says it never happened, we will say they don't know what they're talking about.

"I hope this kind of thing never happens again, and if anybody begins anything remotely resembling a takeover or dictatorship in this country or any place in the world, I hope we, too, will be counted among those rising in opposition. The younger generation sometimes worries me. They don't seem to care. But their time will come. Someday."


With these haunting words, S. Donald Shimazu describes his encounter with victims of the Holocaust in mid-April 1945 as members of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion pursued the fleeing German army toward the Austrian border in the closing moments of the war in Europe.

"We knew the Germans were exterminating the Jews," said Shimazu, who volunteered at age 19 to join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, "but we didn't know where these camps were located."

Shimazu and other members of the 522nd -- a component of the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team -- stumbled across the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, encountering several of the more than 30 Dachau concentration subcamps.

"It was almost the end of April in 1945 with snow still on the ground when the 522nd ran into wandering prisoners freshly freed from the prisons of Dachau," says Shimazu in a new book about the history of the 522nd, "Fire for Effect."

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin

Don Shimazu and Fred Hirayama served with the 522nd Field
Artillery Battalion during World War II.

"They were walking skeletons with sunken eyes, dressed in dirty striped blue-and-white prison garb, searching for food."

Besides the new 212-page book that outlines the history of the 522nd, the unit also is featured in a moving exhibit of words and photographs -- "Witness: Our Brothers' Keepers" -- that deals not only with the Holocaust, but also with the discrimination faced by Japanese Americans, which lead to the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion.

It will be on display through the end of the month at the Common Gallery on the University of Hawaii-Manoa campus, and was assembled by the Japanese American National Museum and the National Museum of American Jewish Military History.

Besides relating the horror of the Holocaust, the exhibit describes the incarceration of more than 120,000 mainland Japanese Americans who were sent to World War II internment camps in isolated areas of the United States.

During the week and on Sundays, veterans of the 522nd serve as docents who carefully and patiently explain the significance of the exhibit and the impact their encounter with Nazi atrocities had on them.

"I saw these prisoners lingering around our camp when they were released," said Fred Hirayama. "It was a grotesque scene."

Hirayama, 77, said other members of the unit drove a tank destroyer that smashed through the gate of a barbed wire compound to release the starving prisoners.

Ed Ichiyama, another 522nd veteran, still vividly recalls the stench.

"It's impossible to describe . . . I went in for a few moments and ran out to vomit."

Shimazu said the Dachau work camp was located near the German city of the same name, and was a former munitions factory that was enlarged to house inmates.

Ichiyama said millions were murdered in Auschwitz, Treblinka, Maidanek and other Nazi extermination camps in Poland. Tens of thousands of Jews were worked to death, he said, in the slave camps at Dachau and Buchenwald and at other camps in Germany.

Ichiyama said he still is surprised when people ask him if the atrocities actually occurred.

"There are so many now who find it hard to believe that this happened that it's distressing to me," he said.

But, he added, "I was a witness."

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