tv A Jewish Refugee in World War II Japan CSPAN March 2, 2019 5:10pm-6:01pm EST
used jim comey's announcement in july about our conclusion of the case in a very public way that departed from president, and his decision in october to notify congress about the reopening of .he case i very much agreed with jim's .ecision in retrospect, i think we probably got that wrong. >> next on american history tv, isaac shapiro reads passages from his memoir growing up a stateless foreigner in wartime japan. mr. shapiro talks about his family's flight from persecution against jews and communist russia and germany before they settled in japan where mr. shapiro came of age during world war ii. in the postwar era at age 14, he became an interpreter for the
u.s. military. later he immigrated to the u.s. the strand bookstore in new york city posted this 45 minutes event. >> good evening, everyone. my name is nancy. i am the owner of the strand bookstore. for history, the strand is located in a greenwich village, which was the heart of the literary center and the publishing area surrounded by authors. the store was founded in 1927 by my grandfather. over what was fondly called fourth avenue. it spans from union square to astor place a block away. at its height there were 48 , bookstores in the 91 years since then.
all but one had shuttered, leading strand to be passed down to my father who died in january and to me, always to be cap independent. tonight is a very special night. we are honored to have c-span with us and to celebrate isaac shapiro and his memoir growing up a stateless foreigner in wartime japan. it is a story of perseverance and chris kelly is going to moderate this. he works with pr and we will have a discussion and an open mic and isaac will stick around and sign copies for us.
please join me in welcoming isaac shapiro and chris kelly to the strand bookstore. [applause] >> thank you, nancy, and thank you to the historic strand bookstore. thank you for joining us tonight it isaac shapiro will read from his memoir edokko: growing up a stateless for and are in wartime japan and share stories from his childhood. thank you to c-span for recording. today, isaac shapiro is an attorney. he lives in manhattan on park avenue and works in a council role. there is nothing about isaac's life today that would prepare you for the story of his childhood. when isaac would tell people he was born a jewish refugee in japan in 1931 and grew up there as a stateless foreigner during
world war ii surviving deadly bombings of tokyo with his family, they were surprised. when he would share how he had been discovered by the u.s. military on the streets of japan in 1945 and recruited to work with them at age 14 as an interpreter and a guide, including inspecting the devastation of hiroshima and witnessing the signing of peace treaties, they were shocked. he continued to discuss how he had been sponsored to come to america at age 15 by a u.s. marine colonel from arkansas and became a u.s. citizen and fought in the korean war and attended columbia, they say, you have to write a book. so he did. the first self published version of edokko was published years ago. he assumed he was done with the book until a few years ago when a woman who works for the publishing company seaside press
picked up a copy at a friends house. she loved the book and contacted isaac and asked if he would consider updating the story and allowing her to republish. the book came out last fall. tonight, ike is going to share some of his favorite sequences from the book. we hope you will stay with us for a question and answer session. isaac's first reading tonight takes place not in japan, but in the russian jewish community in china where his parents lived before moving to japan. it is where his mother returned with young isaac and his brothers when she separated from his father in the early 1930's. it was under occupation by the japanese military. it was unsafe and lawless. isaac?
mr. shapiro: as a toddler, i was blissfully unaware of the physical danger of living under the japanese occupation. i had no idea that my mother's life had been directly threatened in the summer of 1933. the incident became known as the most internationally sensational kidnapping case among the many that were occurring in manchuria on a regular basis in those years. the case involved a 24-year-old pianist whose father joseph was a wealthy julie storeowner and a prominent member of the russian jewish community. he had come to harbin, after the russian japanese war, during which he fought in the russian
cavalry. by 1933, the elder was not only a successful jeweler but was also the sole owner of the hotel modern, a luxurious establishment in downtown hardin. today, the modern is a luxury hotel, having been restored to its original condition and decorated with memorabilia from the early 20th century when it was built. i was there and saw it in 2006. absolutely staggering. the case involved -- he was also the head of the theatrical company which operated a chain of stage theaters and cinemas. he sent his two sons to study in france, where they became french citizens. he was also the head of a theatrical -- young simeon had returned to harbin after
graduating from a conservatory of music. he was among the many young men in hardin quoting my mother, a beautiful 28-year-old woman, despite the fact that she had four sons, they found her attractive. late on the night of august 20 4, 1933, simeon and my mother were kidnapped as he was driving her home after an evening out. years later, it was revealed that the kidnapping and all of the kidnappings and hardin were the work of russian bandits hired by the local japanese police acting strictly out of financial grade. he was able to persuade the captors to drop my mother off at her house before they took him.
how shaken she was from the experience, i can only imagine. during the rest of her life, she refused to discuss any of it. >> simeon would ultimately be sadly murdered by his kidnappers. while isaac's mother never share details of his relationship after her death, the family discovered a letter he sent to her while in captivity. a few years after this incident, isaac's mother returned with the children to japan and reunited with isaac's father. a quick explanation of how this family came to be in china and japan in the first place, isaacs parents each fled russia in the early 1920's. his father, as a result of the revolution and his mother as a result of the -- that were taking place. they met in berlin where they
were both musicians. from berlin, where hitler's had not yet begun his rise, but it was an unsettled time in germany and not a good environment to raise a family. they moved to paris, palestine, and hardin, china, then japan and then back to hardin china. as war became a world war and japan allied with nazi germany, life was changing for the shapiro's, now reunited in japan. >> with the outbreak of the war came the classification of foreigners living in japan in two categories. allies, like the germans and italians, enemy aliens like americans, british, dutch, and australians, neutrals, soviets, the swiss, and the sweetest, and finally, foreigners who had no nationality.
we were called without nationality. those were the words we had to use when filling out forms in which we had to indicate our citizenship. stateless people did not all fall into one simple category. we were known as the white russians. while this term had no legal significance whatsoever, it indicated our national origin and the distinguished us from the soviets who were red russians, most of them diplomats who resided in japan. we were never referred to by the japanese authorities as jews. that was a distinction the japanese did not make. the only way of anti-semitism during the war came in a publication in japanese of the
protocol of the elders of zion. a well-known literary forgery, it had first been published in russian in 1903 and alleged that jewish and masonic wanted to achieve world emanation. i noticed it was present in the neighboring bookstore. to my surprise, next to it was a stack of protocol -- next to the stack of protocol was a stack of books called history of the jewish people. a straightforward historical accounts by a japanese biblical scholar. i stopped by the bookstore several times and was surprised and delighted to see that the history book was rapidly selling out while the protocol did not sell it all. in any event, whether it was because we were stateless, because my parents were musicians and teachers of modest
things, or because my parents had five sons, the japanese treated us kindly and with a show of great respect. the soviet union did not declare war on japan until august 9, 1945. only six days before japan surrendered. during that interval, the japanese authorities scarcely had time to consider how to deal with stateless russians like ourselves. >> like many around the world during world war ii, the shapiros experienced disturbing and frightening events. isaac shares memories of the war's impact in japan in a dogo, including the recollection of sabotage at yokohama harbor. >> on our side of the world in
mid-november, the battle of guadalcanal was underway between the japanese and american forces in the south pacific. closer to home and new, harbor, a major incidents of sabotage occurred that shook us up and brought the war to our immediate attention. on november 30 between 130 and 2 p.m., while we were in school, we heard a terrific explosion. another twice as strong immediately followed. everyone, students and teachers, rushed to the roof of the school building. we saw it again take fire near the docks below. the flames and billows of smoke were getting larger and larger. three german ships docked at the harbor had exploded and several buildings in the harbor were on fire.
as soon as we were dismissed from school at 3:00, we saw german sailors arriving on shore. some of them were blind, others had no legs, most of them, although seriously injured, could walk with help. by 4:00 p.m., the fires began to die. the air was thick with smoke and ash and the smell of sulfur. somebody said the smell came from the exploded buildings, which work ammunition warehouses. police were positioned all over, not letting anyone go down to the harbor. that night, as we lay in bed, my brother joseph said, he heard rumors that the explosions have been the result of sabotage. a french ship had gone out the day before. >> as the war drew to a close, the u.s. drew closer to japan. the shapiro's were moved by the japanese government from yokohama to tokyo, where the family experienced deadly bombing raids.
mr. shapiro: the year 1945 began with the familiar sound of air raid sirens which woke me shortly after midnight. i turned on the radio to hear an announcement that an enemy plane had been seen flying toward tokyo. from my bed, i saw the aircraft smashing. my 14th birthday, january 5, fell on a friday and i woke to the sound of bombs falling all around us. by the time i was dressed, i could see flames in the distance. looking up, i saw japanese fighters flying to meet the b-29 super fortresses. i saw one of them go down in a blaze of fire, even as anti-aircraft guns were blazing.
i heard a loud noise and saw a large metal object dropped into the compound in front of my house. it turned out to be a shell for my 12 millimeter american canon. a short time later, to air raid wardens arrived and demanded we turn it over to them. after an argument, we handed it to an official. by the end of january, following a series of intensive raids, trams and subways were no longer running and we stopped going to school altogether. >> in august 19 45, the u.s. bombed hiroshima and nagasaki. soon after, the emperor made a historic address the japanese nation, the war is over. a few days later, 14-year-old isaac made a decision that would change his life. he went to yoga, harbor to watch the arrival of the u.s. military. when isaac was in school in
japan, he studied english. he was fluent. >> i watched the americans, sure. hundreds of them, crammed into motorboats speeding from their ships to the docks. nothing about that moment was familiar ordinary. it was unreal. i could feel the excitement. i watched one motorized boat zoom toward the dock. soon, i could make out the gis faces. a few of them seemed to be staring right at me. i stared back at them. suddenly, i was startled by a voice closer and allowed. hi. i turned and saw a u.s. army officer in his late 20's had joined on the immigrant. i am captain kelly he said.
he held out his hand. i took it and waited for him to continue. do you speak japanese? yes, sir, i said. good. you can help me. i have commandeered a school bus but i cannot communicate with the driver. come with me and tell him where to go. >> isaac worked with the u.s. military for more than one year and the following year, 1946, a u.s. marine colonel and his wife asked isaac's parents to bring the boys to america. understanding the opportunity that this would provide to their son, they said yes. isaac would go on to become a u.s. citizen and fight in the korean war, at columbia university, and pursue his career in international law.
his parents and several of his brothers later joined him in america where they found success. there is a lot more in isaac's memoir mr. shapiro: growing up a stateless foreigner in japan. isaac would love to discuss the story with you. does anyone have a question? we have a microphone for you. >> did you keep a diary at the time? did your brothers help you? had you remember all of this? >> i did keep a diary during the war. i shared it with my brother. i think i sold it to him, actually. [laughter] after the war, i took it back from him. it stopped short of the end of the war. but it reveals hindsight and interest that we were secretly very sympathetic with the allies and we wrote in our diaries with
disregard for the consequences and we helped the allies would win the war. one piece of evidence i had as to which side we were on. my granddaughter. >> how long did it take you to write the book? mr. shapiro: oh, gosh. two years. >> ok. >> i have a question. with all of the members of the family, were you the only one who secretly hoped the allies would win the war? where their family members who one of the japanese to win? >> actually, my two oldest brothers left tokyo in 1944 and went to harbin to live up my grandfather.
we had too many mouths to feed. they had just graduated from high school. in 1944 over 17, twins. they moved to harden. as far as others in the family, my brother whom i shared my diary with also expressed the same sympathy is for the allies that i did. same sympathy is for the allies >> why? you were born and brought up in japan. how come you cited with the allies? >> it is simple. we were strongly anti-german because of the persecution of the jews. we knew about that. we certainly had no sympathy for the germans and did not want
them to win and that the japanese had one, it meant the germans had won, too. >> were you aware of a larger jewish community in japan? i know there are some. my great uncle was briefly in japan during the war and had an address in a jewish community in kobe. were there any other jews around? >> yes. the largest jewish community in japan was in kobe. it was a major port, the major port for ships from europe. >> what about where you are living? >> no. kobe is a good distance from tokyo.
i do not remember being in kobe until after the war. >> i grew up speaking russian for the first five years of my life, even though we lived in china. i learned no chinese. when i moved back to japan in the summer of 1936, i was enrolled in a british school. i started to learn english for the first time. my mother came to school with me every day to interpret for me until one day i said, i do not want you with me anymore. i can follow. >> when were you aware of the holocaust? when? >> we became aware of it
primarily through the stories of refugees coming from germany to japan. from europe generally. there was a stream of them. he is honored in a cemetery in tel aviv. my father, who spoke english, served as an interpreter for many refugees who came and cannot communicate with the american consulate. my father would go with them to the consulate and help them apply for visas and literally hundreds of refugees until after pearl harbor came to japan.
my father served them well as their interpreter. until they got visas and moved on. >> i apologize. we have one more reading that i skipped over. it is very interesting. while working with the u.s. military, isaac witnessed the signing of the peace treaty between the u.s. and japan. in october 1945, he was asked to accompany u.s. military leaders on a trip to witness the damage that had been done when the atomic bomb was dropped on hiroshima. it was a day he is never forgotten. mr. shapiro: yes. on sunday, october 20 8, 1945, a group of senior naval officers, several nurses from the benevolence, a u.s. hospital ship, and i, flew to hiroshima to survey the damage.
for reasons i cannot remember, my sponsor did not join us. there were 15 of us. we flew on a transport known as an are five c, is slow engine and propeller plane. there is a picture in the book of the group of us. we rode together -- we left at 8:30 and landed in hiroshima two hours and 50 minutes later. it was a cold day. i had been issued a leather jacket with a fur collar a few days earlier and i had been issued a full-length winter coat and it was more than adequate to keep me warm area we were aware that an atomic bomb had been detonated over hiroshima. at a height of 1850 feet.
of the estimated 400,000 people present in the city that morning, more than 75,000 had been instantly killed. almost the entire central core of the city had been pulverized. none of us was prepared for the sight that greeted us after we stepped off the plane at the hiroshima airfield. what had once been a thriving city was literally a wasteland, a sea of rubble. looking clear across the city from one end to the other, we saw only two burned-out buildings standing, including at the epicenter, the famous dome building that has become a monument and a world-renowned symbol of the world's first nuclear airstrike.
for two hours, we were speechless walking from one part of the rebel to another. i had been accustomed to seeing glass fragments after conventional air raids. i cannot find a single crack or broken piece in the rubble. picking up a glob of glass that melted into an unrecognizable mass, i realized from intense heat generated by the bomb it turned all the glass objects into molten globs. toward the city center, i saw a lone street car its way across town on the horizon. i saw two pedestrians hundreds of yards away walking aimlessly through what must've been streets but they now led nowhere. most of them walked alone. there were no children to be seen, as if people felt there was still danger in the air and
children should not be allowed outside. it was a macabre scene which i've never forgotten. we flew back in total silence, struck dumb by the experience. >> thank you. mr. shapiro: any other questions? >> i always got the feeling, especially in china, and also in japan, they did not understand who jews were. i never felt anti-semitism and other country. how did you feel? mr. shapiro: first of all, there was a large jewish community in china, much larger than japan. hard in, in the 19th century in china, was a small town. it became populated as a result of the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.
synagogue was built their which is still there as a museum. i was there in 2006. there is a harbin center for jews, of which i am an honorary member. they maintain the history. they maintain the cemetery which has been moved outside the city where my grandparents are both buried. a very large number of jews met there. in japan, jews were much fewer in number. we started coming at the end of the 19th century. there was no serious discrimination of any kind.
if anything, the feeling of anti-semitism, to the extent it existed, came from other foreigners who brought it with them. >> can you talk about the japanese culture? do remember, were women wearing kimonos? were there many cars back then? was a rural? mr. shapiro: we were very embedded in japanese culture because, we live, for the most part, and communities of which were japanese and not for an. they were foreign enclaves in a new, on the bluff. a series of western style houses, all of them, business executives who were assigned to yokohama and lived there. it was where the schools were,
foreign schools, st. joseph's college. the more privileged foreigners in lived there. we lived on the coast near the beach and there were only have a dozen or so foreigners who lived in that area. >> here you are, jewish, there are foreigners, i assume from germany, as well. how would you interact with the germans who were nazi sympathizers? >> i was very curious because the german government controlled their population. they were all subject to oversight by the germans. germans had gestapo units to watch out for them. we got to know some of them.
interestingly enough, my best friend when i was 10 years old was a young german who had been stuck in japan after his family started to go back to germany from new york, where his father was a banker and they were stuck in japan because they cannot continue on the trans-siberian railway after the soviets cleared war on germany. so they spent the year in japan instead of going back to germany. my friend who sat in front of me in school and became a close friend, came once a week in his hitler youth uniform and was watched over by the gestapo.
his parents allowed him to play with a jewish boy and my parents accepted him because they showed no signs of anti-semitism and they met his parents who were of the catholic religion from the munich area and were quite openly anti-nazi. the sister of my friend wrote a book called journey interrupted. you can find it on amazon. it is a story of the family having moved from new york to japan and then stuck there during the war. they were interned after the war by the americans. then they went back to germany and eventually, they found their
way back to new york and we resumed our friendship and my friend died four years ago. i am still friendly with his sister. >> can you tell us about meeting the emperor? mr. shapiro: [sighs] he was a controversial character. there was an attempted military coup before the war to dislodge him. he was the titular head. the general rule japan during the war. after the war, thanks to general macarthur's policies, he was allowed to remain on the throne.
macarthur considered it an asset to have in there while the military trials and other military leaders went on. there is a famous picture of him standing next to general macarthur at the u.s. embassy. a very short japanese emperor with macarthur towering over him. him he remained until his death. i have the honor of entertaining him in new york when i was president of the japan society. he came on an official visit. later on, he invited my wife and myself to a dinner party at the imperial palace. he remained literarily free of any kind of persecution or intimidation until his death. his son is about to abdicate next year in favor of his son, one of the first abdications in centuries.
>> considering there must have been a lot of censorship by the japanese government over what was actually going on, how where were you of what was going on and when do you remember knowing the japanese were losing? mr. shapiro: you are right to point that out. there was tough censorship during the war. we never had a radio or a telephone. what we learned we learned from the neighbors, many of whom had radios and listened to foreign broadcast. the newspapers were all censored. the japanese deceits as the allies conquered more and more territory in the pacific were minimized or completely excluded
from newspaper accounts. through the grapevine, we learned an awful lot and were quite well aware of the japan's progressive defeats until the final stage and especially after the beginning of the air raids when it was clear that the americans had conquered the islands and the japanese had lost the battle. the war was progressing, okinawa, your juma. it was impossible to ignore the fact that the japanese were slowly being defeated. particularly with the intensity of the air raids, there was not any question about it. we were evacuated from the coast where we lived in yokohama until 44.
then the japanese government evacuated all foreigners living on the coast line because they were anticipating an invasion. we were moved to tokyo, courtesy of the japanese government, which found us a house and paid for the move. they were decent about it. >> was that frightening? mr. shapiro: it was very frightening. the intensity of the air raids in the fall of 44 and the spring of 45 became uncertain whether we could survive. frightening. what would happen to japan? >> excuse me. i wanted to know if you had any concept or idea about why did the japanese become allies with the germans politically? i have never quite understood.
>> well, it is a long and complicated story. partly it is because the japanese feeling of inferiority after world war i when they were allied with the british and americans and felt they were not given equal treatment. at things like the conferences and peace talks and so forth. partly, it was the military descendents in japan itself and the sympathy the military had for the germans. germany was winning battles and europe and then invaded the soviet union in the summer of
1941. they were looked up to. >> whatever happened to your mom and dad? did they come to america? were they able to get jobs as musicians? mr. shapiro: my parents remained in japan until 1952 after the peace treaty was signed. my mother had a relative in california who was a musician and my parents were both musicians and wanted to come to america and continue their careers. my mother was in her 40's and she no longer have the responsibility for five children. the only one of her sons who remained at home was my younger brother who was six years old when the war ended.
he eventually immigrated with them to california in 1952. california in the 50's and 60's had a lot of western musicians. him arthur rubinstein and others, a whole slew of russian musicians who worked in hollywood in los angeles. he was the conductor of the los angeles symphony. they found a community with which they had affinity and which welcome them. so they pursued their musical careers in los angeles until they died. >> what instruments that they play? >> my father was a cellist and also a composer and conductor. my mother was a pianist.
>> as a child you were severely traumatized, do you find the beach scares you? do find solace and music? i was in china and 83 and i am 63 years old and history has to be told. there is no such thing as objectivity. what you are doing is crucial. did you find solace in such a horrible? thing music? solace. where did you find it? >> oh, solace. goodness. [laughter] >> in music? mr. shapiro: friends. good friendships with other children.
they were many foreigners like ourselves living in our neighborhood in school with us and we spent our time when we were not in school with each other, not with her parents, our parents had separate lives. there was a much greater distance between parents and children then. yes, darling? >> can you tell people about sneaking out to the movies and how hollywood and the movie is was a specific thing for you? a lot of your childhood involved -- mr. shapiro: my father was very strict and we were for bid and from going to movies so we did it secretly.
the only time i remember being allowed to go to the movies was my 10th birthday in january of 1941. i was allowed to go see the seahawk with errol flynn. [laughter] >> do we have any more questions? >> what a fascinating history. it did not take place that long ago. mr. shapiro: 76 years? >> thank you, chris kelly. thank you, isaac shapiro. please stick around to sign copies for us. mr. shapiro: i would be happy to. >> pasadena is your quintessential southern california community. >> i think there is this balance of reverence for the past.
>> people in pasadena are very proud of going to do their business at city hall and having it be this fantastic spanish palace, but we are also home to the planetary society where you have looking very much forward to the future and galaxies beyond. >> c-span cities tour is on the road exploring the american story. we take you to pasadena, california, with our spectrum cable partner. known for the rose bowl and its rose parade, we will talk with authors from the suburb of los angeles. 's july 26, 1943 was l.a. pearl harbor. it was on that day in the middle it came in iii, don't know from what direction, but it got so this kiss and acrid that police officers directing traffic disappeared. it was beginning of having
small-related automobile accidents. it got so bad that mothers were dragging their children into department stores. a kind of hysteria built. >> we go inside the jet propulsion laboratories at caltech, responsible for putting the rover on mars. >> the reason we are here is to do what had never been done before. we are paving the way for human exploration elsewhere in the solar system. ofwatch c-span cities tour pasadena, california, today at "bookedtv."stern on "booktv." author andd, political commentator heather donald and former fbi deputy director andrew mccabe. heather mcdonald will take your calls, facebook questions, and
tweets on several of your -- several of her books including the burden of bad ideas, the war on cops, and most recently, the diversity delusion. sunday, former fbi deputy director andrew mccabe discussing his book "the threat: how the fbi protects america in the age of terror and trump." he is interviewed by "new york times" reporter adam goldman. >> i did think about the decisions we made and the reasons behind those decisions and how we thought about them at the time. with the benefit of hindsight, i try to be honest in the sense of did we get it right or did we not. the biggest issues are of course, jim comey's announcements in july about our conclusion of the case in a very public way that departed from president, and of course, jim's decision in october to notify congress about the reopening of the case because of the emails on the wiener laptop.
i agreed with jim's decision to announce the case as we did in july. in retrospect, i think that would probably got that wrong. announcer: stephen recker is the creator of the book "rare images of antietam and the photographers who took them." next, stephen recker talks about how he became interested in collecting photographs of the antietam battlefield and shares pictures of some of the rare and previously unseen images he discovered. he also discusses what he learned about the battle of antietam and its aftermath from studying the photographs. this hour long talk took place at the shenandoah valley civil war museum in winchester, virginia. >> good evening.