During the 1930s, Japan was characterized by the rise of extreme nationalism and a series of expansionist wars, beginning with the military take-over of northeastern China (Manchuria). After a military coup attempt in 1936, the Japanese military consolidated its control over the political system. In 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War began. Japan occupied large parts of Eastern China. Japan's stated war aim was to establish the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a vast pan-Asian union under Japanese domination. Japan, Germany and Italy formed the Tripartite Pact in September 1940, which is the basis for the Axis. On 7 December 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This brought the US into the Second World War. Japan then successfully invaded the Asian colonies of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, having already penetrated French Indochina in 1940-1941. The tide began to turn against Japan following the Battle of Midway in June 1942. The Japanese military was responsible for war crimes against prisoners of war and civilians. On 6 August 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima. On 8/9 August, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria, and a day later Nagasaki was struck by a second atomic bomb. The unconditional surrender of Japan was communicated to the Allies on 14 August.

With a population of slightly over 70,000,000 in 1939, the Empire of Japan only had a small Jewish presence. The Russian Jewish community in Kobe was the largest (about 40 families in 1941). During the Second World War, Japan was initially regarded as a safe transit country and, for a limited number, a safe country of refuge, despite being an ally of Germany. Most of the German and Eastern European refugees were sent on to Shanghai in the Japanese-occupied part of China. Between 1938 and 1941, approximately 20,000 European Jewish refugees joined the city’s small population of Bagdadi and Russian Jews, and in 1943, were ordered by the Japanese authorities to relocate to one small section of the city.

Archival Situation

The National Archives of Japan located in Tokyo is an independent administrative institution. The holdings are mainly in Japanese, but brief descriptions in English can be accessed. The Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan hold records pertaining to Asia and Europe during the Second World War and the Holocaust, as do the Military Archives at the National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS). Beyond this, Japan also holds a significant number of archives of prefectures and municipalities. Many of these archival holdings are now accessible via the portal Japan Center for Asian History Research (JACAR).

EHRI Research (Summary)

EHRI has identified the Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and the Military History Office as holding Holocaust-relevant documents. The latter has sources pertaining to Jewish refugees and residents in areas occupied by Japan. However, EHRI is yet to determine the exact nature and significance of these collections. In the EHRI Portal, Kosovo is covered by several archival institutions, including USHMM, Yad Vashem and the Arolsen Archives.