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Japan Enslaves Koreans—Twice

Kim Hui-jong was forced to work as a slave laborer for Japan, lost part of his hearing in the fighting on Saipan, and spent two years at a POW camp in Hawaii. Then he returned home to Korea and tried to build a normal life. But his World War II agony wasn’t over.

Six decades after the war, Kim learned that he had mistakenly been listed among Japan’s honored war dead in Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, believed to house the actual souls of those who died in service to the emperor. A clerical error was to blame.

Yasukuni, operated by a Shinto religious foundation, is notorious for enshrining— among 2.4 million others— 14 Japanese convicted as Class A war criminals by an international tribunal after the war, including wartime prime minister Hideki Tojo, executed in 1948. To China, South Korea, and other Asian countries brutally occupied by imperial Japanese military forces, the shrine is a symbol of Japan’s refusal to atone for its bloody past because spirits are absolved of their crimes upon enshrinement.

“I am neither a war criminal, nor a dead man,” Kim Hui-jong, 86, told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency after a Japanese court recently rejected his attempts to get his name removed from the shrine.

In 1944, he was taking a morning walk in his village outside Pyongyang in what is now North Korea when a soldier in Japan’s occupying forces ordered him over. Kim knew what would follow: like thousands of other Korean men, he’d been conscripted. Soon he was in the western Pacific, digging tunnels and ditches for the Japanese defenders on Saipan. He was never given a gun. His proficiency in Japanese spared him torture by his Japanese overseers: he could understand their commands better than most other Korean conscripts.

During a U.S. barrage, a shell exploded near Kim, shattering his eardrums and leaving him with permanent hearing loss. On June 19, 1944, he was captured by U.S. forces and sent to a prison camp in Hawaii where he spent the next two years.

He returned to Korea after the war, married, and worked as a low-level civil servant, his advancement held back by his poor hearing. He was always ashamed of his wartime role working for the Japanese.

Then, in 2005, a South Korean documentary team found Kim and told him that he was listed at Yasukuni. He traveled to Tokyo to press his case for removing his name from the shrine. But when he tried to visit the shrine, authorities who were aware of his complaint barred him from entering.

In 2007, he took his case to court in Japan. During one of the trips he made to Tokyo to testify, a Japanese reporter asked him what he thought of the shrine. “I told her she wasn’t going to like my answer,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I said I wanted to light a truckload of gasoline there; that I’d feel satisfied if they dropped not one but two atomic bombs on the place.”

In ruling against Kim— and the families of four other Korean slave laborers listed at Yasukuni, who have died since the suit was filed—the Japanese judge declared that their inclusion was the result of “an unavoidable mix-up by the shrine, and does not infringe upon his human rights and moral interests.” Tokyo courts have dismissed similar lawsuits, saying they had no jurisdiction over religious shrines.

Imperial Japan’s wartime behavior continues to create political tension in Asia. New Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, for instance, provoked complaints from South Korea and China in August for saying he didn’t think the war criminals were guilty of anything under Japanese law.

“Yasukuni is a symbol of imperialism,” the director of the Korea Council for Redress and Reparation for Victims of World War II Atrocities told the Los Angeles Times. “To include conscripted Koreans is enslaving the spirit of the deceased. They won’t be able to find peace, even in death.”

German History For the Kids

A new German children’s book borrows from the colorful layouts of the Where’s Waldo series to tell a sometimes-grim story: Die Strasse (The Street) explores how one German street endured 100 years of history starting in 1911, including the rise of the Nazis and the destruction of World War II. One panel (below left) shows members of the Hitler Youth banging a drum and carrying a swastika flag; around the corner is a Jewish grocery, its windows shattered. Another panel (below right) shows the aftermath of the war: bombed-out buildings and desperate people checking message boards for word of missing loved ones. “The problem is how to address such a terrible subject without directly confronting the children with the horror,” illustrator Gerda Raidt told Spiegel Online. “That’s why I tried to incorporate little hints all over the pictures.”

Glamorous Fashion Designer—and Nazi Spy?

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was a revolutionary fashion designer, a dazzling socialite—and Agent No. 7124 for the Abwehr, Germany’s military intelligence agency.

So says a provocative new book, Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War. Author Hal Vaughan, who has previously written about the French Resistance and American wartime spies, found a 1946 French police dossier that identified Chanel as a German spy. She was codenamed “Westminster”—a sly reference to her lover, the Duke of Westminster.

“I was looking for something else and I come across this document saying ‘Chanel is a Nazi agent, her number is blah, blah, blah and her pseudonym is Westminster,’” Vaughan told the Associated Press. “I look at this again and I say, ‘What the hell is this?’ I couldn’t believe my eyes!”

Vaughan’s book expands on what was already known about Chanel’s activities in occupied Paris: She lived in luxury amid high-ranking Nazis at the Hotel Ritz. Chanel had an affair with Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, a German spymaster, and was recruited into a German espionage ring in 1940, Vaughan writes. But apparently Chanel wasn’t much of a spook. Her activities seem to have included eavesdropping on diplomats in Madrid and unsuccessfully trying to use her friendship with Winston Churchill to broker a peace deal. A postwar investigation went nowhere; Chanel died in 1971.

The House of Chanel dismissed Vaughan’s allegations. “More than 57 books have been written about Gabrielle Chanel,” a statement issued by the company said. “To decide for yourself, we would encourage you to consult some of the more serious ones.”


Originally published in the February 2012 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.