Friday, May 21, 2010

1 Freelance Friday: Travels With Vivi, Love and War in Japan

We last left off with Vivi settling in to her new life in Yamaguchi, Japan...

During this time, members of the “foreign community”, many of them Europeans and Americans teaching at various colleges, met regularly for parties, outings, and other wild and crazy events. One of these was a shy young American called George Potter, who had recently graduated from Harvard in Far Eastern Studies and was teaching English at the Kotogaku in Fukuoka. True to Vivi’s style, their relationship was initiated by her challenging him every morning to swim a mile in the icy ocean at dawn. While reluctant to get up that early , or to get involved with anyone (George always carried a photo of a fake “fiancee” with him for safety), they soon developed a warm friendship.

When the Second World War broke out, life became difficult. Food rations were distributed to the Japanese and to friendly foreigners, but not those of Jewish origin.

Vivi and her uncle survived on a small garden and with the help of many Japanese friends. When the US joined the war, George was interned in a Japanese Concentration Camp and was eventually returned to the US as part of a prisoner exchange in 1945. Vivi and George lost sight of one another.

Meanwhile, as the Japanese war effort was failing, all foreigners were to be evacuated and kept in holding camps. On the way north to the camp, Vivi’s train was to pass though the main hub of Hiroshima. As the train approached the outskirts, there was an abrupt stop – the tracks had vanished, - Hiroshima had vanished. The passengers got out and were confronted with the horror of the immediate aftermath of the bomb.

As the emperor announced Japan’s capitulation and the end of the war, all foreigners were sent back. When she returned to their home, the garden had been harvested and the house had new occupants. Again, with the help of friends, she survived the next few weeks.

When the first US occupation soldiers arrived in the town, they were astounded to find a young European woman and immediately hired Vivi as a translator. Severely malnourished, she now had access to food and to regular employment, and began to look forward to life again. A few months later, she received a summons from US Occupation Headquarters in Tokyo. With trepidation, she took the trip north, only to be led to the office of young Lieutenant Potter, who asked her to marry him.

Vivi and George were married in April 1946; the military wedding took place on April 12th, and was followed by the church ceremony on April 26th. Almost nine months later, their first daughter Kerstin was born. For the next two years, they stayed in Tokyo, helping rebuild the lives of their friends and the community. 

Next up, the post-war years...

This is the third installment from guest blogger (and Katrina's mom) Kerstin Potter.

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