Feinde | Brüder: Deutsche Kriegsgefangene in Japan (2013)
It is rare to hear a positive stories about prisoner-of-war camps, but the story of Bandō prisoner-of-war camp (板東俘虜収容所) on the island of Shikoku is just that. In November 1914, when the siege of city of Tsingtao (China) came to an end, German soldiers were rounded up and sent to prisoner-of-war camps in Japan. The most renowned of these is the camp at Bandō, in what today is the city of Naruto in Tokushima Prefecture, where nearly a thousand prisoners were imprisoned until 1920.
The Hamburg-based filmmaker and author Brigitte Krause took on the story of the camp in her latest documentary Enemies | Brothers: German POWs in Japan (2013). Krause has an extensive knowledge of Japan, having spent time at Nihon University College of Art in 1985 on a DAAD scholarship for film studies and having shot several live action films and documentaries in Japan over the years (see: AGDOK Filmography).
The film opens with the children of Bandō Kindergarten singing a nursery song adaptation of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. This is significant because the first time Beethoven’s 9th was ever performed in Japan was by prisoners in the Bandō camp. The song has gone on to have great significance in Japan with it being performed throughout Japan during New Year’s celebrations.
This is just one of countless lasting effects of this historic contact between Germans and the Japanese. Krause explores the personal stories of several of the detainees and their families using historical documents and photographs. The detainees’ stories are supplemented by historical information gleaned from experts, both amateur and professional.
Renate Bergner, who was guest of honour at the film screening I attended in Frankfurt, told of her father’s experiences in the POW camp. He left with such a positive impression that he ended up living in Japan for two decades after the war.
A whole film could be made about the life of Kazue Shinoda, a Japanese woman who was adopted as a child and did not discover that her grandfather was German until she was an adult. Krause follows her journey of discovery from meeting her German-Japanese mother at the age of 24, to Shinoda tracking down and visiting her astonished German cousins (her grandfather had told no one back home about his Japanese family) in Saarland with the assistance of Schmidt.
The only suffering endured by the POWs in Bandō seemed to be homesickness and boredom. In order to combat the latter of these two ills, detainees turned the camp into a mini-village with its own garden, bakery, theatre group, and newspaper, among other things. They also seem to have had much contact with the local residents, with events such as holding an exhibition of German wares for the curious townspeople. One of the long-lasting traditions introduced by the Germans was the art of baking. Fourth generation baker Tsunemitsu Oka of the German Bakery in Naruto not only had the art of German baking passed down to him, but also went to Lüneberg, Naruto’s partner city (see: Deutsch-Japanische Gesellschaft zu Lüneburg e.V.), to study under the direction of a baker there.
The credit for the POWs relatively comfortable experience in captivity is given by many to Col. Toyohisa Matsue, who was in charge of the camp. His compassion towards the soldiers was rooted in his samurai family’s own experience of being exiled to rural Aomori during the Meiji Period. In Krause’s film two of his granddaughters relate their experiences of him as a stern, mustachioed head of the family. We were lucky at the screening that Col. Matsue’s great-grandson coincidentally works for a Japanese bank in Frankfurt and was able to join us to answer questions about his famous forefather.
The film edited in the typical fashion of a German television documentary, with voice-over narration and Japanese interviewees overdubbed with German. On the whole, Enemies | Brothers is an educational film accessible to all ages. Copies of Feinde | Brüder on DVD and Blu-ray can be purchased via the film’s official website. The website claims that it is available with English, French, and Japanese subtitles. Make sure that you request the subtitles you want, because the DVD that I have disappointingly has no such options.
The screening of Enemies | Brothers that I attended at Sallbau Dornbusch on November 13, 2014 was co-sponsored by Nippon Connection and DJG Frankfurt.
To learn more about the German POWs in Bandō:
- Doitsukan: Das Deutsche Haus in Naruto 鳴門市ドイツ館
- “Japanese POW camp was a little slice of home.” Tapei Times. 23 March 2004.
- Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien: Bandō-Sammlung
- Forschungsgruppe „Deutsche Kriegsgefangene aus Tsingtau in japanischen Internierungslagern“
- Tsingtau und Japan 1914 bis 1920: Historisch-biographisches Projekt
Maia Hall (piano/keyboard)
Birgit Maschke (violin)
Hiroshi Akagaki (mandolin)
Kyosuke Suzuki (shakuhachi)
Naoki Sato (flute)
Sanae Mizukami (oboe)
Jin Teramoto (bassoon)
Kenichi Kawabata (clarinet)
Translation / Interpretation:
Prof. Dierk Günther
Tsunemitsu Oka (German Bakery in Naruto)
Marugame Research Group
Prof. Barbara Rossetti-Ambros
Fumiko and Toshio Takahashi
Ilse and Christine Walzer
Children and Teachers of the Bandō Kindergarten
Letters and Writings of the POWs:
The Bandō POW newspaper: Die Baracke
Photos and Film Clips of:
Das Deutsche Haus, Naruto
Photos courtesy of:
Photo albums belonging to the Schäfer, Pabst and Fröhlich families
Brigitte Krause FilmproduktionHamburg
Saarland Medien Gmbh
The Japan Foundation