Ex-WWII POW Meets CA Governor for Support in Pressuring Japanese Companies to Apologize for WWII Slave Labor

December 10, 2010

Wiesenthal Center offers Museum of Tolerance for possible meet between ex-slave laborer POWs and Japanese companies

Lester Tenney, a tenacious 90-year old survivor of World War II’s infamous “Bataan Death March” met with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this week in San Diego to seek his support in getting Japanese firms bidding on California’s high speed rail project to apologize for their use of American POWs as slave labor during the Second World War. US government records indicate that more than 27,000 American soldiers were captured by the Japanese military. Over 11,000 (40%) perished due to inhumane treatment. of nearly 13,000 American POWs who were sent to Japan, 1,115 died in Japan while being forced to work for Japanese companies.

Mr. Tenney, whose 3½ year travail as a POW included slave labor in a Japanese coal mine where he was regularly faced beatings and starvation, as well as seeing the mushroom cloud from the atomic bomb attack at nearby Nagasaki, told the governor, “It’s not too late. There is still time for Japanese companies to do the right thing. There is no monetary issue here—just an opportunity for Japanese firms to finally take action and serve the cause of justice and reconciliation.” Mr. Tenney told the Governor that this past September, he and five other former American POWs were invited to Japan to receive an official apology from then-Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada on behalf of the Japanese government. “The companies should do no less,” he added.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center who arranged for nearly one hour meeting told the Governor that he had offered the Center’s Museum of Tolerance as a venue for meeting between Japanese firms and surviving ex-POWs during a recent visit to Tokyo. The Governor, a major proponent of the high-speed rail project recently visited various Asian countries interested in bidding for the project, including Japan, was asked by Tenney if would agree to attend such a meeting. “Absolutely,” Mr. Schwarzenegger replied, adding that he would seek other ways to get the Japanese companies to do the right thing.

BACKGROUND: On April 9, 1942, following the Allied surrender of the Philippines, the Japanese Army forced some 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners-of-war on what is now called the Bataan Death March. Deprived of food and water and subjected to beatings and in many cases killed, the prisoners were forced on a 60 mile, six-day march to a POW camp. Historians estimate the death toll on the March was between 6,000 to 10,000, but thousands more died in the next two months from the effect of the March. Those who survived where then placed onto “hell ships" bound for Japan, where thousands more died. Those who survived the trip to Japan where then forced into slave labor for some of Japan’s industrial giants involved in the war effort.

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The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).