JERUSALEM — Forty-seven years have passed since Japanese-American soldiers arrived at the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, liberating inmates who thought the soldiers had come to kill them.
For the first time since that historic event near the end of World War II, the war veterans met here this week with some of the Jewish and Christian inmates they rescued in April, 1945.
For many it was an emotional encounter. Clarence Matsamura of San Gabriel stood in tears next to Solly Ganor as liberator and survivor met each other for the first time since World War II.
"Here was the man who saved me," said Ganor, who lives in Israel. "The first people who saved me were Japanese-Americans. I wouldn't have been more astounded had angels come down and lifted me up to heaven."
Matsamura broke down several times as he recalled meeting the emaciated Ganor and other inmates of Dachau. He said he was constantly reminded of his own parents, who languished in a U.S. internment camp for Japanese-Americans while his unit was behind enemy lines fighting the Nazis.
"Isn't it ironic that my folks are in a camp in the United States and I'm liberating Dachau," Matsamura, who just turned 71, said, recalling his reaction to the events of nearly half a century ago. "
George Oiye of Montana was in a Jeep with other soldiers headed toward Dachau when they saw men in ragged clothes straggling in the snow. Then the soldiers entered the camp and saw soot rising from the crematory.
"We saw lumps in the snow," Oiye recalled. "We didn't realize what they were. Later, we saw they were skeletons and dead bodies."
Another survivor was Yanina Cywinska, then a 16-year-old Polish Roman Catholic girl who was taken to Auschwitz early in the war. She recalled being placed in a gas chamber naked along with her father. His crime was that he had protested to the Catholic Church about deportation of Jews from Poland.
Cywinska, the director of a ballet school in Fairfield, Calif., said she was saved by a Jewish woman who gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She was later taken to Dachau and during the last days of the war was in line with other inmates.
"We were waiting to be shot" when the Japanese-American rescuers arrived, she said. "We said: 'What are you waiting for? Just shoot us.' So, he got down on his knees and said, 'By God, I am an American soldier. You are free.' We didn't believe it."
The Japanese-Americans were brought to Israel for an exhibit of photographs taken by some of the soldiers during Dachau's liberation.