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Sunday, November 11, 2012

'Death Railway' survivor who could forgive dies at 93

Eric Lomax and Nagase Takashi meet at the Bridge over the River Kwai.
Eric Lomax a former British soldier who was tortured by the Japanese while he was a prisoner during WW2. Half a century later forgave one of his tormentors- an experience he recounted in a memoir "The Railway Man."
Beaten to a pile of broken bones, caged, starved and tortured, Eric Lomax was convinced he would never see Britain again.

It's an unusual man who can forgive his wartime torturer- or whose quest to do so can touch so many people around the world.
Eric Lomax, a former British prisoner of war whose moving tale of wartime torture and forgiveness is being turned into a film, died October 8,2012, at the age of 93 in northern England.

Lomax endured horrific conditions and savage beatings as he and thousands of others were put to work building the infamous "Death Railway" from Siam to Burma.

He like many others endured years of suppressed rage at the torture he suffered at the hands of his Japanese captors, but when he finally tracked down his interrogator, Takashi Nagase, it set the stage for a dramatic act of forgiveness that formed the heart of his celebrated 1996 memoir, " The Railway Man."

Conditions were brutal. The POWs laboured in 100-degrees heat by day and slept on wooden bamboo slats, full of insects, in leaking bamboo-huts. Depleted by malnutrition and disease they died by the thousands.
For Eric Lomax things dramatically worsened in August 1943, when the Japanese discovered an illegal radio set ( assembled from bits of wire, aluminium, wax and silver paper) and the detailed map Eric had drawn of the area. He was lined up with four other prisoners and the camp guards beat them with pick-axe handles.Each prisoner was forced to watch the others. Eric was left with a broken nose and two broken arms. Two of the other men were beaten to death, their bodies thrown into a latrine.

His interrogation by the Kempetai, the Japanese Secret Police, began the next day. A small man introduced himself as the interpreter and told him to confess he was a spy and to indentify others involved in " widespread anti-Japanese activities". Eric recalled:" His voice grated on and on. For 18 hours a day I sat, balancing my broken arms on my thighs."

First came beatings and then Eric was taken outside, strapped down on to a plank and a guard directed a strong jet of water from a hose on to a towel held over his mouth and nose. As his stomach distended painfully, another guard beat it with a wooden stave.

Over a week of torture Eric remained silent. The Japanese sentenced him to five years. As he left the camp for prison the interpreter said:"Keep your chin up." Eric could not know it but this was Takashi's attempt to express his shame.

Eric was married in 1983 for the second time when he was 64 years old to Patttricia Wallace, a 46 year old nurse who persuaded him to seek help from the Medical Foundation For The Care Of Victims Of Torture. 

It was the first time he had ever talked of his wartime ordeal. But still the hatred for the interpreter burned within him until in 1989 a fellow ex-POW gave him a newspaper clipping about a book written by a Japanese Military interpreter in which the author recalled the torture in Kanchanaburi of a British POW who had a map. Eric read the book "Crosses And Tigers" and at last he knew the name of his tormentor.

With Eric's permission Patti wrote to Takashi, who replied straightaway. Eric was deeply moved by his remorse. Unbeknown to him, Takashi had spent his post-war life atoning for his country's crimes to the extend that he was considered a traitor. After the war he had indentified POW graves for the Allies, relocating thousands of graves and mass burial sites along the Burma Railway and organised reconcilliation visits for POWs. And Eric had haunted his memories just as much as Takashi had haunted Eric's.

On March 26, 1993, almost 50 years to the day since their last encounter, the two men met at the war museum in Kanchanaburi. At first Eric could not grant Takashi's request for forgiveness". As they parted, Takashi asked if they could be friends. "Yes," said Eric.

"When we met, Nagase greeted me with a formal bow," Mr. Lomax said on the Web site of the Forgiveness Project, a British group that seeks to bring together victims and perpetrators of crimes. "I took his hand and said in Japanese, ' Good morning, Mr. Nagase, how are you?' He was trembling and crying, and he said over and over again:' I am so sorry, so very sorry.'
I had come with no sympathy for this man, and jet Nagase, through his complete humility, turned this around. In the days that followed we spent a lot of time together, talking and laughing." He added," We promised to keep in touch and have remained friends ever since.

Mr. Lomax added that Mr. Nagase's later life resembled his own. "He has had the same psychological and career problems that I have."

"I haven't forgiven Japan as a nation," Mr. Lomax told in an interview, "but I've forgiven one man, because he's experienced such great personal regret."

Mr. Lomax and Mr. Nagase continued to write and telephone each other and whenever anyone asked how he could absolve Takashi Nagase, Eric Lomax quote the last line from his book, Forgiveness is possible when someone is ready to accept forgiveness.Some time the hating has to stop."

The book is currently being made into a film starring Academy Award-winners Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.

Eric Lomax, born May 30, 1919, in Edinburgh passed away on October 8, 2012. May he rest in Peace.

Eric Lomax.

Takashi Nagase.

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