Why Did Japan Treat Jews Differently During World War II?

Historians in the News
tags: Japan, Jews, WWII



During World War II, why did the Japanese refuse orders from Nazi Germany, its wartime ally, to kill all the Jews within its borders? A new book from Academic Studies Press, “Under the Shadow of the Rising Sun: Japan and the Jews during the Holocaust Era” addresses this question. Its author, Dr. Meron Medzini, former director of Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) and also the author of “Golda Meir: A Political Biography,” was born in 1932. After working as spokesman at the GPO for the prime ministers Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, and Yitzhak Rabin, Dr. Medzini taught modern Japanese history in the Department of Asian Studies of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Israeli foreign policy at the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University. Recently, “The Forward’s” Benjamin Ivry discussed with Dr. Medzini the subtleties and complexities of Japanese policies towards Jews before and during the Second World War.

Benjamin Ivry: You write that although Jews in areas occupied by Japan during World War II were brutalized, they did not suffer because they were Jewish — does it matter to people being abused by an occupying power why they are being abused?

Meron Medzini: No, but the basic idea was to show the difference between the Japanese and the Nazis, and the second thing was that any dealing with Jews was essentially left to the local commander, be it the camp leader or division head. There was no clear-cut guidance from Tokyo, to do this or that to the Jews. The Jews were considered part of the gaijin, the foreigners.

Was the Japanese-Jewish common ancestry theory, which appeared in the 1600s as a hypothesis claiming that Japanese people belonged to the ten lost tribes of Israel, widely known enough to have influenced people’s beliefs in Japan?

Not at all. The people who spread this essentially were Christians. The average Japanese scholar was not interested in it, did not know about it, did not read or write about it. ...





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