One of Japan’s most influential publishers has pledged to use his chain of magazines to educate his country’s citizens “about the tragic history of injustices and suffering endured by the Jewish people.”
The pledge was part of a formal apology by the publisher delivered last week during a mass press conference in Tokyo. In one of his magazines, a 10-page article appeared denying the existence of gas chambers and the systematic killing of Jews at Auschwitz.
An editorial statement of the article had expressed “major doubts regarding the `Holocaust’ and the massacre of Jews at the hands of the Nazis.” It characterized the article, “The Greatest Taboo of Postwar History: There Were No Nazi Gas Chambers,” as the “new historic truth.”
Kengo Tanaka, president and CEO of the respected Bungei Shunju publishing house, said that after seeing the article in the February issue of Marco Polo magazine, he decided to shut down the publication, fire the responsible editors and pull all unsold copies from newsstands.
In a highly unusual action, the Japanese Foreign Ministry released a formal statement on the matter, describing the article “as grossly insensitive and inappropriate.”
The article had triggered a barrage of protest from U.S. Jewish organizations and the Israeli government. The Protest resulted in an advertising boycott of Marco Polo-at the request of the Simon Wiesenthal Center-by half a dozen international companies.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center, flew to Tokyo last week at the invitation of Tanaka to accept the formal apology and to appear with him at the Feb. 2 press conference.
“It was unbelievable,” said Cooper on his return last Friday. “The press conference lasted two hours and 20 minutes and was attended by more than 400 journalists form the Japanese and Western media, and at least one Arab reporter.”
Cooper said Tanaka had expressed his deep regret that “the article has caused immeasurable pain, not only to Jews who have suffered more than enough, but also to millions of others dedicated of truth and decency.”
After acknowledging his won company’s “overall lack of understanding” of the Holocaust, Tanaka promised to take remedial steps.
“We will do everything in our power to educate ourselves and our leaders in Japan about the tragic history of injustices and suffering endured by the Jewish people,” he said.
Tanaka added that “Japanese history and culture are so widely different and removed from those of the Jews that a proper perception of the realities involving the Jewish people will be possible here only through an extensive educational effort” with the assistance of organizations such as the Wiesenthal Center.
During the press conference, one Japanese reporter held up an anti-Semitic book published by a subsidiary of Bungei Shunju. Tanaka assured Cooper that such books would no longer be distributed.
A considerable stir was created in Tokyo by the abrupt closure of Marco Polo, a glossy magazine with a circulation of about 250,000 that is aimed at men in their 20s and 30s.
At least one journalist said he was the crackdown and the advertiser’s boycott as confirmation of international Jewish power.
Others noted that the magazine had been plagued by falling circulation and financial difficulties.
But Tanaka said his decision had been based on the contents of the offensive article.
Neither the Wiesenthal Center nor other organizations that had protested the article, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, had asked for the shutdown of the magazine.
Meanwhile, the author of the article, a young physician named Masanori Nishioka, held his own press conference, at which he charged that the magazine “was crushed by Jewish organizations using advertising, and Bungei Shunju obliged.”
“They crushed room for debate,” the author also said.
Cooper told those in attendance at the press conference with Tanaka that he was puzzled by the recurring publication of “Jewish conspiracy” books and articles in a nation with only 1,000 to 2,000 Jewish residents and hardly any historical contact with Jews.
Most observers believe that the popularity of such books is rooted in frustration over the country’s economic problems and trade conflict with the United States.
On the positive side, Cooper said, there were practically no anti-Jewish hate crimes in Japan, the translated version of the “The Diary of Anne Frank” had sold nearly 5 million copies and a Holocaust exhibit last year drew heavy attendance.
Looking at the conflicting evidence, Cooper said even highly educated Japanese “don’t have a clue” about the Jewish People and the Holocaust.
He said he expected a more detailed proposal in the next few months from Tanaka on how to raise editor’s and reader’s awareness of the Jewish experience.