Tatsuo Osako’s album. (Photo courtesy of the Osako family)
After viewing an old photo album page filled with seven pictures of Holocaust survivors who boarded the Amakasu-maru - which carried passengers to safety in Japan from 1940 - 1941 - Akira Kitade decided to track down the survivors to discover their personal stories.
Kitade discovered these old photos while visiting an old boss from the Japan National Tourist Organization, Tatsuo Osako, who had kept these photographs for many years after working on the boat that saved so many lives.
The passengers’ three-day crossing of the Sea of Japan on the Amakasu-maru, from Vladivostok, Russia, to the Japanese port of Tsuruga, hardly qualified as a cruise; it was more like a rescue shuttle. From September 1940 to June 1941, the Amakasu-maru and other vessels ferried refugees from the Nazis to shelter in Japan. According to a nine-page memoir Osako wrote in 1995, he worked more than 20 such voyages. Kitade said Osako estimated that there were 400 passengers aboard each.
Some passengers appeared elegantly dressed and wealthy. Most looked “forlorn and lonely, like fleeing travelers,” Osako wrote, and he “felt keenly how sorrowful it was to be stateless and, in contrast, I also felt how fortunate I was to be born a Japanese.”
For years, Kitade wondered about the man and six women whose visages appeared in these photographs. Then, in about 2009, he began scratching at the mystery itching him. He began searching. Last year, Kitade met a relative of one of them.