Skilled at manipulating history
The author is a national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The Rammelsberg, located in Goslar in Germany, has a mining history of 1,000 years. It has been famous as a mine since the Roman Empire. The first documented record of mining goes back to the year 968. The operation ended in 1988, and it turned into a museum after the closure. In 1992, it was registered as a Unesco World Heritage site.
The long history is not the only factor that makes the mine special. Germany used forced labor of Polish and Ukrainians during World War II. At least for a brief part of the 1,000 years, madness and violence of the war ruled the mine.
Germany does not reject or deny this part of history. When the mine became a World Heritage site, 20 percent of the facilities were dedicated to the history of forced labor. Visitors can watch interview videos containing the voices of forced labor victims.
On February 1, the Japanese government sent a recommendation to the Unesco Secretariat to register the Sado mine as a World Heritage site. The mine was where many Koreans were forced to work during the occupation. It is the Japanese version of Rammelsberg. However, the Japanese government restricted the period to the Edo period from 1603 to 1867, trying to remove the history of Japanese occupation and packaging it as proud history.
It is not the first time that Japan is trying to snip out a part of history. When Hashima Island, or Battleship Island, and its forced labor facilities became a World Heritage Site in July 2015, Tokyo promised the international community that a facility to remember the victims would be set up. But the Unesco World Heritage Committee conducted field research in July 2021 and expressed strong regret that there were no contents presenting the full history of the island.
“Full history” is a principle for becoming a Unesco World Heritage Site. It means that not just the bright side should be highlighted but also the dark sides must not be covered up. The history of violence and aggression with clear evidence and witnesses must not be erased.
Japan must acknowledge the shameful history, apologize to the victims and repent. It is the only way to be close to full history. That’s the path Germany took. Japan is going the opposite way again.