OSWIECIM, Poland – Takeshi Nakatani is the only Japanese-speaking docent at Poland’s Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, which is dedicated to educating visitors about the Auschwitz death camps operated by the Nazis in World War II. He said he hopes the Japanese visitors he leads through the facility will gain an understanding of the horrific suffering the holocaust victims endured and of the importance and fragility of peace.

Nakatani was born in Köbe, Hyögo Prefecture, in January 1966 and studied economics in Japan prior to settling in Oswiecim. He said he was not interested in war-related stories as a young boy, but he did remember someone talking about the Auschwitz camp.

In 1987, he visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oswiecim during a trip to Poland. “I was stunned by the intense air of death,” he recalled.

Nakatani began working for a manufacturing company in Japan after graduating from college. But he was so drawn to Poland that he made another trip to the country after the conclusion of the Cold War. In 1991, he decided to quit his job in Japan and move to Poland. He worked a number of odd jobs — on construction sites, as a restaurant waiter — barely managing to support himself. Nakatani later married a Polish woman from Oswiecim.

He studied the Polish language and began preparing for the tough examination to become an official tour guide at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. He passed the exam and started working at the museum in 1997.

The museum tour takes three hours to complete. Sometimes, Nakatani leads three tours per day. “I still cannot understand why a tragedy of such magnitude occurred,” he said.

The Auschwitz camp was a network of German Nazi concentration and extermination camps in World War II. It consisted of three main camps and 45 satellite camps. An estimated 1.5 million people were killed at Auschwitz, most of them Jewish.

The camp was liberated by Soviet troops on Jan. 27, 1945.

The museum is a place of remembrance and reconciliation, drawing large numbers of German visitors who grieve for the victims, along with Israeli and Polish visitors.

Nakatani said he does not see the museum from the perspective of relations between Japan, China and Korea. But he does have hopes for young Japanese who visit the museum.

“I hope young Japanese people will take back what they have heard and felt here.” — by Toshihisa Onishi


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