Unlikely Liberators at Kauai Veterans Center

Kauai Veterans Center, Lihue, Hawaii

Bill Wright and Phyllis Hironaka worked with volunteers from the Kaua‘i Veterans Council and Kaua‘i Jewish Community to assemble the 522 Unlikely Liberators exhibit for showing during the month of September.

The Exhibit, curated by military historian Eric Saul, documents the encounters between WWII Nazi concentration camp prisoners of Dachau and Nisei soldiers of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, a unit of Hawaii’s famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It includes original photographs from veterans and their families, as well as from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial, the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem, the Simon Wiesenthal Center archives in Los Angeles, and the KZ Gedenkstätte Dachau (Dachau Memorial Museum) in Germany.

The opening ceremony was held on September 5th, with guest of honor Clinton Shiraishi, a 522 veteran who lives on Kaua‘i. The exhibit is sponsored by the NVL and the Kaua‘i Veterans Council, and hosted at the Kaua‘i Veterans Center in Lihu‘e through September 27th. The Kaua‘i Jewish community and Kaua‘i veterans organizations will serve as greeters.

As a leading unit of the final attack to capture the southern part of Germany, soldiers of the 522nd discovered and liberated some of the Dachau sub-camps. Then they encountered what is now called the Dachau Death March in during which thousands of Jewish prisoners were killed by their Nazi SS prison guards. An advance unit of the 552nd drove off the Nazi guards and saved about 5,000 remaining prisoners from certain death. They then gave care and assistance to the ill and starving survivors until dedicated medical and support organizations could take over.

As described by Edward Kawamura Sr., Kaua‘i Veterans Council commandant, the purpose of the exhibit is not just to honor our WWII heroes and to educate current generations about their sacrifices also to remind us that history can repeat itself. “We want to open the eyes of the public to what freedom meant and what it cost in blood and lives,” he said. “The young men of Hawaii were loyal citizens, but they had to go prove themselves in war and battles. The exhibit is to open a dialogue with the younger generation to make sure we don’t have a mistake like this again.”

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