A View From Westerplatte

Writer, Professor of  Seisa University. Born in Kobe in1934. Spent his childhood in Shanghai, where he witnessed the outbreakof the Pacific War, an experience which was to shape the future of hisinternational activity. Majoring in French literature at TokyoUniversity, worked (1958 - 1964) as drama director for the NHK (JapanBroadcasting Corporation). His 1972 novel, "Okoku no geinin-tachi"("Artists of the Kingdom"), depicts the labor movement amongbroadcasting artists. With writer Oda, Makoto, formed the "Peace forVietman!" Committee (called "Beheiren"), Japan's first citizens'campaing against the Vietnam war. Most notably, the committee helpedthe U.S. army deserters. Sympathetic towards student movements, he haswritten many documentaries on the subject. Since the 1980s, an activemember of the Japan P.E.N. Club, organising campaigns in support of KimDae Jung, of Korea, Lech Walesa, of Poland and Waclaw Havel, of theCzech Republic. His 1983 novel, "I Have Visited Poland" ("Boku waPoland wo tabishita"), is a reflection of his experience of Solidaritysuperimposed upon his childhood memories of Shanghai. 1983-84,Fulbright Professor, teaching Japanese literature and peace movementsat West Virginia University and elsewhere. Has served as President ofCCA (Christian Council of Asia) and Executive Director of the JapanP.E.N. Club. Published works include "Seishun no Yume: Oguri Fuyo andNephew Kyotaro", featuring a Japanese Communist in Hitler's Germany,and an autobiographical novel, "La Mere", based on his mother'smemoirs. Active in anti-nuclear movements and journalists' campaign topreserve and safeguard Article 9 of the Peace Constitution of Japan.

The following novel, "A View from Westerplatte" is from "I Have Visited Poland"

Once again, we set off in our Fiat.

We pass a pine forest and soon after a cluster of dwelling houses.The road cuts through an embankment of fields. To one side, neatlycultivated land, tractors parked here and there, the farmhouses looklarge and new. To the other side, fields overgrown with weeds and thehouses appear to be in state of decay.

"This is privately-owned land", says Waclaw. So the orderly sidebelongs to a collective farm. I hadn't expected to see so sharp acontrast highlighted by a mere strip of a road. All the same, thefarmers have managed to cling on to their own land.

By and by, the buildings increased in number. In the distance,beyond some houses in the fields, a medieval castle came into view.

"There's Malbork", said Andrzej, leaning eagerly forward in his seat.

We crossed a river about a hundred metres wide. I'm told it's theNogat. There was a church and a restaurant on this side of the castle.We position ourselves next to a window overlooking the river. Andrzejengages in negotiations with a plump waitress wearing embroideredclothes. It seems we can manage a chicken cutlet. For starters, wedecide to have some vodka. Back in Warsaw it was already impossible toobtain any; here, by contrast, it was beer which was unavailable, whilevodka could be had anywhere at all.

With vodka entering the head and the images of Sztutowo fading, we started off merrily for the castle.

The castle was deeply moated and dry. Originally, the water wouldhave come directly form the Nogat. We pass a wooden drawbridge whichserves as a guard box. Once over the moat, we go under a stone castlegate, arriving at a cobble square with tenements on two sides. Climbingup along a stone path, we come to a second castle gate which leads ontothe keep. With a castle of such proportions, it is not hard tounderstand its layout. As you enter the gate you see a littlecourtyard. There is a small hut in the middle with the sculpture of acock on the rooftop. That's the castle well. In a U-shape around thewell rises a two-storey building. The wall facing the courtyard is agallery. In the hall, a tableau of a Polish knight valiantly engaged inbattle adorns a wall. His enemy a Swedish prince.

Andrzej says: "the German name for Malbork is Marienburg. This used to be East Prussia."

Could this be the land that the German Knights, or the Teutonic Order, once colonised?

As early as the 1200s, at the instigation of Konrad, the Duke ofMazovia, the Teutonic Knights attacked Prussia and founded the citiesof Torn, Marienburg and Elbing. However, their advance eastwards wasput to an end to by Alexander Nevsky on the ice-bound Lake Chaudusk. Inlater years, they founded the city of Konigsberg. In the fourteenthcentury, they extended their territory into Pomerania and Danzig.

The man who stood up to them was Ladislaus the Second, the King ofLithuania and Poland, later to be known as Jagiellon the Second. As theDuke of Lithuania, he become the king of Poland through his marriage toHedwig and, at Grunnenwald-Tannenberg (the Polish name, Sztewark), in1410, completely defeated the German Knights. The Order lost fortythousand men.

I had no idea what duel it was that the painting at the Malborkcastle was depicting, but the youthful knight striking down the blueand white Swedish emblem had all the makings of a David striking downthe dragon. There was an inscription with some names at the bottom ofthis battle scene, but, being in Polish, made little sense to me. Areflection came to me that it might as well have been Atsumori Tairahurling himself into the sea in the embrace of one of Genji's soldiers.

I left the painting and, casting a glance at the spears and swardson the walls, made my way to the innermost part of the castle. Itseemed like a huge gymnasium with an arch opened wide onto the Nogat.

Andrzej beckoned to me.

There was a hole in the stone floor, rather like a manhole,surrounded by an iron railing. A thick wooden board hung over itsuspended on a chain.

"Take a look at this!"

"Probably a toilet", suggested Waclaw.

"No, it was for throwing people down", corrected Andrzej.

Underneath, the hole was empty, looking straight over the dry bed,or rocks rather, of the River Nogat. The height was dizzying.

"It was through this hole they used to cast dead bodies out", he continued.

"It would've meant instant death even if they had been alive"

"Perhaps it was the place of execution for traitors"

And then again, perhaps for some noble lady without any connectionto the enemy who had aroused a king's anger by an act of betrayal withone of the knights?

The knight is thrown in first; above him, like a butterfly, fluttersdown the noble lady. Afterwards, half submerged, they become carrionfor the fish and the birds. Had it been winter, when deep snow coveredthe whole landscape, the icy wind from the Baltic would probably havefrozen their bodies stiff at once.

The journey back took us along a wide road. Kazimierz, our driver, said it was an autohahn

built by Hitler. As if chased by the setting sun, we hurried back toGdansk. Andrzej and his friends began to worry about the time. Itseemed they had one more important site to show me.

We drove past the entrance to the Lenin shipyard and continued alongthe shore. Suddenly, this city of old churches and lovely, tree-linedboulevards transforms itself into a rough harbour port-town. I see tallcranes inland soaring over the docks. We cross a steel flyover. Below,a railway siding, a road under construction, quayside warehouses.Walking along a promenade on the finished embankment, I am startled bya large freighter passing close by. The colour of the sea is dark blue.A beautiful forest with young leaves stretches along the shore. Insidethe forest, a small tank on display. I hear it belonged to Sucharski'smen. But who, in fact, was this man?

The promenade turned away from the shore. Large signboards, likepanel walls, were arranged at the side of the road. There were somephotographs too. Lengthy explanations in English and Polish: those inEnglish brief and simple.

In September of 1939, when the massive German battleship, namedSchleswig-Holstein, turned up in the Free City of Danzig, it was MajorHenryk Sucharski who defended this very spot, called Westerplatte, witha force of merely 200 infantrymen. A photograph shows him as a smallman with a dreadful, cylinder-shaped, black military hat on his head.It could well have been taken in the days when wars were still foughton horseback.

At any rate, all that Major Sucharski had at his disposal at thetime were: 75 mm cannon, 41 machine guns, 161 rifles, 40 pistols andhand granades.

But what of this "Something-or-rather" Holstein? Does it not soundlike a species of cow? The Holstein was completed in September 1936 andequipped with four 280 mm cannons. It left Keel on 25-th August 1939.

Suddenly, I began to feel uneasy about the whole thing: was thisSchleswig-Holstein really a battleship, or had I misread theinformation on the board? As I was brooding over the problem one day, aprofessor of Japanese literature at the Humbolt University, andfrequent visitor to Tokyo, Mr Bernhard, showed up. I asked him whetherthat really was the name of a ship.

"That's right, a battleship".

He spoke with a slightly embarrassed smile on his face.

"She left East Prussia, which was still German at the time, forGdynia, the other port of Danzig, on what appeared to be a friendlyvisit. Then, on the 1-st of September, she attacked both Danzig andWesterplatte.

"And that marked the beginning of the Second World War, did it not?"

"Yes, that's right".

"How old were you then Mr Bernhard?"

"I was six"

"I see, that means you were a year older than me".

Now, the sad remains of whether the "Hitler Yugend" or the Japanese"Young Nation", we glanced tenderly at each other like two middle-agedmen in a bar who had been caught singing old military songs.

My research had unearthed this document: "Hitler's order to attack Poland".

1. Now that all possible attempts at apeaceful solution to the pressing problem of the German eastern borderhave been exhausted, I have decided to resort to force.

2. The attack on Poland is to beexecuted following the preparation of a "white incident". Note thechange to the army's attack, which is to occur in a state of nearlyfull concentration.

There is no change to either duty assignments or strategic targets.

The date of attack: 1-st September 1939.

The time of attack: 04.45 hours.

The above date and time apply to operations directed both at the port of Gdynia-Danzig as well as the Dirschauer bridge.

(Walter Hoffer: Nazi Documents)

Here is an excerpt from a war history book I've read:

"Poland was forced to wage this war onher own. Statistically speaking, the Polish army was in no way inferiorto that of Germany. Poland had forty divisions against Germany'sfifty-two. The Polish side, however - having delayed troop mobilisationin anticipation of Britain and France's wishes - had only managed toform half of its force. What is more, six divisions on the German sidewere armoured ones: the Polish side had virtually no tanks at all. Theair force had in the meantime lost half its planes. Poland had deployedits troops in an advance position, the idea being to defend theindustrial area concentrated in the West and, fatuously, to advanceinto Germany. Two German corps, arriving from East Prussia and Silesia,came behind the Polish army and cut off its communications. The Germanarmoured divisions pushed ahead owing their advance to their speedrather than fire power. The infantry had merely to secure the rear. ThePolish army broke down in chaos."

(A.J.P. Taylor: An Illustrated History of War: World War Two)

Back to the signboard.

For seven long days the 210-men-strong Polish garrison of theWesterplatte battery under the command of Sucharski fiercely defendedtheir position with one 70 mm cannon and 41 machine guns against theopponent's 4000 troops - or twenty times their number. At the hands ofSucharski's the German army suffered losses between 300 and 400 dead.

He believed that, if he defended this place to the bitter end,Britain and France would lend a helping hand, that the world would notdesert Poland. But help was not to come.

While I was reading the signboard in Gdansk, I wondered - reflectingon the communiqu?s in war-time Japan - whether the phrase "died inhonour" would appear anywhere.

Ten dead, thirteen seriously wounded, ammunition all used up - thegarrison of Westerplatte surrendered on day seven. Rescue never camefrom far away across the Baltic Sea. Sucharski was taken prisoner, butafter the liberation became a general in the People's Army.

It occurred to me to ask Stefan and the others how old they were at the time.

Waclaw, a harbour pilot, was eleven. Stefan was six; he was in aplace a hundred kilometres away from Czestowo. Kazimierz, our driver,was seven and living in Kercychy. On the 1-st of September he wassupposed to enter school. Because of the war, the new school year hadto be postponed. Andrzej had not even been born. So we all seem to beof the same generation. I was five years old.

Soon the forest ended and we came to a section of the canal. Therewas a fairly steep hill overlooking an inlet. The front had a flight ofchiselled, broad steps. Above rose a huge monument.

"I am standing at Westerplatte".

The inlet continues in a straight line from the bay and onwards, allthe way to the docks. On the far bank is the Lenin Shipyard, its craneslike birds piercing the sky with their beaks. Father into the inlet,some coast guard vessels lay at their moorings.

The steps on this hill may be a hundred metres wide and climb to theheight of thirty metres. A stone tower at the top rises higher still.At its foot, a bunch of flowers tied with a ribbon. It is almostevening now and a lone couple is standing, arms locked, looking on.

Stefan, Andrzej and I go up the steps. As we climb, I have a feeling I have walked up a similar flight of steps before.

Where, though?

I must have been six or seven years old.

That's right.

The year was1941, the sixteenth year of the Showa era. Shanghai.

I am climbing up the steps of Da Chang Zhen. The white steps reflectthe dazzling sun. I am with my father and another man, his youngeracquaintance. He would have been that architect, the father of littleKoh.

"The spacing of these steps is just right, is it not?" says the man,

"You're absolutely right!" My father sounded impressed. The man died in the war.

Ever since, whether I was climbing the Great Pyramids at Giza or theruins of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, steps of this kind have alwaysreminded me of Da Chang Zhen.

An enormous war memorial had been erected at the top of these steps.And whenever I think of Da Chang Zhen, the site of a fierce battle inthe Shanghai war, I am also reminded of the Wu-sung Battery. It wasbefore I entered the National School that my father and I took a tripto the Wu-sung Battery. The weather was also sunny. We stepped into apetrol engine car from the wooden platform behind the barracks of theNaval Brigade. When we got out, my father and I went for a long walkalong the banks of a creek. It was a broad one. A junk moved slowlyupstream close to the wind, its red sail swollen in the breeze.

"Here! Take a good look! If you work the sails skilfully, the junk will proceed against the wind, you see?"

As an only child, I spent all my time with my mother. I would followher about like a shadow. Yet, it is my father's words that I remember.

The creek was perhaps four or five metres wide. The water had abrown colour with delicate wrinkles on the surface. The junk continuedup the creek under its red, triangular sail. A Chinese man wearingshorts and some children were inside the boat.

There was a pillbox on the other side of the creek. Althoughhalf-destroyed and overgrown with weeds, it had an open red brickentrance through which we were able to get in. After that, my onlyrecollection is of myself sitting astride a cannon ball shell on top ofa height which dominated a vista over the Yangtze. The shell had beenfilled with concrete. A photograph from that time still remains.

Can all children remember the times they went out somewhere withtheir mother and father with the same feeling of loneliness and despair?

Of life's solitude? Or are such sentiments peculiar to an onlychild? Could it be the particular atmosphere of my home, with myfather's dislike for his job, my mother's grumbles and my father'sincessant, mournful silence? He came from a family of Kyushu's landedgentry, being the seventh son of a girls school headmaster. Hegraduated from the School of Commerce in Tokyo, and found a job in abank owned by a conglomerate. My mother was also a daughter of a schoolheadmaster in Kobe. The man who arranged for the two to meet was myfather's superior at the office - an unusual man. My father then movedto Shanghai to work in the fascinating field of currency exchange. Thatis where the war found him, dispelling any dream of New York or London.

He left for Shanghai in 1940, one year before my mother and I madeour delayed crossing. We sailed from Kobe, passing Nagasaki on the way.Upon waking up, I saw from the deck of the Tatsumaru the East China Seachange its colour from blue to yellow. It was the Yangtze...

The yellow-coloured sea swayed on the other side of the deck'shandrail; I made a point of getting up early on each of the eightsubsequent crossings we made between Japan and Shanghai to find out ifthe sea would change colour to yellow, but I never saw it again.

Muttering the "Wu-sung Battery" to myself while standing there atWesterplatte, made me suddenly realize the oddity of it all am Iactually allowed to feel the way Stefan and Andrzej were feeling? ThePolish troops at Westerplatte were fighting the Germans to stop theirinvasion. Thus if anyone has the right to feel empathy with the memoryof Westerplatte, it must surely be the Chinese. I am the offspring ofthe invading side, and if there were a German child standing here, thatwould be me. Does it not follow therefore that I have no right to feelinspired by the Polish defenders of Westerplatte?

Upon my return to Japan, I opened a book which had long been lyingon my father's bookshelf called "The Endless Shanghai", by TogoYoshida. As a pre-war publisher, he appears to have moved to Shanghaialarmed by the passage of the Public Peace Maintenance Law. His bookwas published immediately after the war by the Chuokoronsha PublishingCompany.

It tells the story of his journey up the River Sucho. We read howthe author, feeling pressed for money, proceeds into Chinese territorywith the intention of purchasing for twenty thousand Yuan a plot ofland concealing boxes of pig hair.

"I entered a path from the main road,heading for the place, when I was challenged for the first time by aJapanese sentry posted on a bridge along the way. The sentry wasalready past his prime - around fifty - and, hearing that I wasJapanese, asked if I thought the war would end by the time the cherrytrees blossomed? He reacted with melancholy silence after I told himthat, given the circumstances, it probably would not finish so early.

After five or six steps, all I saw atfirst were all these corpses: skeletons and mummies clad in Chineseuniforms were piled up in a heap. A large number were still clutchingguns in their hands or had grenades stuck in their chests. There someboxes apparently filled with pig hair, which had been used in lieu ofsandbags. The heroic Chinese soldiers, who must have fought to thefinish, were lying prostrate, their guns resting on the boxes. Almostinconceivably, a lone head supported by the chin and helmet satprecariously on top of one of them, its hollow sockets staring into thedistance.

I stood gazing for a while, unable tomake a move, then rushed to get away - not out of repulsion, but ofshame. I was devastated with shame for attempting to sell to theConcession for the sum of twenty thousand Yuan a piece of land whichthese patriotic men defended to their last breath."

Such is the land where I grew up.

However, it would be inaccurate to contend that I was being torn bythe guilt of responsibility for the war while I was at Westerplatte. Ihad feelings of affinity for Stefan, Waclaw and Kazimierz. An affinityakin to the sorrows of this age - war and death, foreign lands andarmies; my own thoughts in the midst of it all.

Are we not all children of the same age?

To be sure I was able to live along the Yangtze only because I was being protected by an invading army.

In "Notes to Travellers", from a 1942 publication by the CentralChinese Railways, under the title "Travels in Konan", we find afollowing passage:

"In conclusion, it is needless to saythat this line is dotted with the battlefields of the China Incident.Let no visitor forget that there is neither a mountain nor a river herethat has not drawn the precious blood and sweat of our brothers intheir glorious task of building Greater East Asia."

There is no mention of the blood of the Chinese people.

The solitude that I experienced on the banks of the Yangtze couldhave been little more than a sensation which an only child - growing ina foreign land and deprived of playmates - had while on an outing withhis young mother and father. Yet the utter despair of that age whichcontinued to dog me later in life, the despair and solitude I alwaysbore inside me, had become impossible to endure.

Before my eyes the Yangtze, filled to overflowing, carries its brownwater in a powerful torrent. The other bank is invisible. From time totime a junk passes by, and then disappears as if it had fallen over theedge of the sea. I had a long life to live. I might have to saygood-bye to my parents. I could not be coiled around my mother forever.I had to get out and live among total strangers.

Was it the fear of an only boy-child who realizes he has to go onliving by himself one day? Or in a wider sense, the uneasiness causedby living among what was ultimately a foreign population, no matter howlarge the Japanese community may have been? Or was it perhaps theanxiety lurking in the mind of a child about the direction his owncountry, Japan, was heading in?

Man and his epoch surged before my very eyes. Did I not, as a child,glimpse in the current of the River Yangtze a reflection of history?Could not even a child of seven sense the course of the epoch's drift?

It all came back to me in the Polish city of Gdansk. No, not quite,actually - I had never truly forgotten. As a matter of fact, I hadalways intended to write about it, but nothing somehow came of it. As Iwatched the Yangtze glide along, I first thought of writing about thesolitude I felt at the time, hoping I might reconcile myself to it. Anddespite always having that intention, I never wrote anything in theend. In my forty-seven years of life I had written about a greatvariety of things, except this particular one. It was in factWesterplatte which made me take up my pen in this manner. Even then, itwas not immediately afterwards that I was able to write about thislong-hidden episode. Then one spring, sleepless night, at dawn, sevenmonths after my return from Poland, I made my attempt - with ademon-like excitement - to describe that solitude of mine.

The night of the 8-th December, 1941 was just as dark. About four inthe morning, my father received a telephone call. We were attackingAmerican and British warships, I was told. I went out onto the veranda:in the darkness surrounding the New Park, search lights played in thesky. The war had begun.

There was relatively little of the war that I was able to see with my own eyes.

I remember Japanese marines posted at the house of a Chinese notableat the forward end of the street where I also lived, calledTaiikukairo. I often used to play with them firing blanks into the air.Every now and then, some soldiers would disappear. They were sent tothe interior never to come back. I believe the fifty-year-old sentrythat Togo Yoshida encountered on the River Sochu was perhaps not unlikeone of these men. Although the sentries I knew were all in theirtwenties.

A long row of Chinese women, who had emerged from the morning mistbringing foodstuffs from the countryside on their shoulders, was linedup by the soldiers. They were examining the contents of their sacks bythrusting bayonets in from the top. Each time grains of rice fell outof the sack and spilled onto the ground, the plump Chinese women criedand begged for mercy, nervously folding the fabric on the back of theirtrousers. A similar scene was re-enacted after the war one day when wewere shopping at Akabane and Ikebukuro. Standing still on a platform,carrying a rucksack on my shoulders, I thought to myself: "Well, whathappened to those Chinese people in Shanghai is now happening to me".

On my way to the National School, I used to walk along a narrowcreek. A Chinese farmer's house stood there and a boy, about my age,always used to follow me with his eyes. He had a harelip. Later, as Iwas playing on the bars in my Junior High School, a classmate camealong and gave them a good shake. The rotted base collapsed, sending mesliding on my face across the gravel on the ground. I was left with amouth injury reminiscent of a harelip.

"Oh, dear", I thought; "Now you look like a Chinese".

As a young child, I was not yet aware of being Japanese. And so Icontinue to live this life of a chrysalis, forever spinning the cocoonof the solitude of that age. A solitude in the shape of the lush, tallgrass that hovers over the Wu-sung Battery. At Westerplatte, I sawmyself just as I had been forty one years before.

Following the visit to Westerplatte, we went on to look at thechurch at Oliwa. It was founded by a Prince of Pomerania and boasts oneof Europe's most unique organs. On the ceiling, high above the organ,are rows of mechanical figures capable of intricate movement. As soonas the organ begins to play, a sun and a moon start rotating as choirsof angels and cherubim rise to play their trumpets.

The congregation was in the middle of a Sunday evening service tothe Virgin Mary. They kept repeating the words "Swieta Maria" as theysang - that is how the phrase "Santa Maria" is rendered into Polish.Suddenly I become aware of Waclaw's loud responses and saw tearsrolling down his craggy cheeks. Watching him, I noticed moistness on myown face. "Swieta Maria, Swieta Maria".

Thus ends my story of the excursion.

By the time I got back to the student hall, the clock had struckmidnight. My room was up in the attic. Saint Mary's church loomed infront of my window, its cross brightly lit. To my right the pinnacle ofthe church rose darkly into the sky. The Town Hall was on the right. Apatch of light illuminated the portico. I have an eerie feeling some ofRembrandt's night watchmen are going to emerge round the corner.

A quarter moon appears over the cross. Once more I hear Waclaw's voice: "Swieta Maria".

Suffering - an essential part of the human condition - defines thespirit of this land, does it not? Not pleasurableness then, butsuffering is here at the centre of the human condition. Humanity cravestorture. Thus what this nation desires in no mere return to politicalfreedom. It is more profound than that: one might say it is aboutrevealing the nature of the human condition itself and of humanity'sneed for suffering. To reach into the abyss - it is this kind ofspirituality that is filling the sky of this ancient Hansiatic city,casting a ray of light from the moon and all the way to the cross.

I do not know why I suddenly remembered my wife's baptism a week before my departure. Why the need for haste?

Wars, invasions, history. Enemies and allies. Am I these people'senemy or ally? I am one of them, for humanity - standing in thepresence of something greater than itself - is together as one. That ishow I felt. To face responsibility is not an impossible task. Nor is itto make sound political judgement. But over and above, there issomething else that motivates human existence. I do not doubt it: ashumans, we share a similar fate, which transcends the distinctionbetween enemy and ally.

To the left of me the moon: to the right of me the cross. And the sun has yet to rise.

Translated by Adam Poludniyk & Carles Sandy



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小中 陽太郎

コナカ ヨウタロウ
こなか ようたろう 1934(昭和9)年 神戸市生まれ。