Dire News Out of Soviet Union-June 22, 1941

After being warned about a Japanese attack against the US, Dad knew that he had to leave Japan as quickly as possible. The ticket on the Japanese ship, the Kamakura Maru, was one hundred seventy-five dollars, which was the amount quoted in the April letter from the American Embassy in Moscow. It was June 14, 1941 when he finally embarked on the next leg of his journey home. Much of the world was already at war, but the United States had managed to avoid involvement in the conflicts.

Kamakura Maru ticket

The trip to Honolulu took nine days.  He made friends with some of his fellow passengers to help pass the time. It was a potpourri of people from around the world. There were Japanese- Americans born in California and Hawaii, Jewish-refugee families escaping from Germany and Poland, two diplomats from the Soviet Embassy in Moscow traveling to Washington, and several other families from the states.  Everywhere he walked, he heard a different language being spoken, and most of the conversations were not in English.

Ship Dad traveled on between Yokohama, Japan and San Francisco, CA June 1941

Ship Dad traveled on between Yokohama, Japan and San Francisco, CA June 1941

Dad met a young woman from Poland who was traveling with her mother to Canton, Ohio. They showed him their American passports which they claimed to have gotten from the Polish consulate. Knowing how difficult it had been to get an American passport as a US citizen, Dad could not contain his amazement. He was, to say the least, quite astounded.

Dad with young Polish woman headed to Canton, Ohio aboard Kamakura, Maru

Dad with young Polish woman headed to Canton, Ohio aboard Kamakura, Maru

When he asked how the two women managed to get their passports, he was told by the younger woman that her father had made the arrangements. According to Dad, it cost quite a lot of money. Reflecting on that episode many years later, my father commented that “money means everything.”  If only he had access to such funds, he would have been traveling home with his entire family rather than alone.

The Kamakura Maru docked in Honolulu on June 22 and remained there three days while the ship restocked its supplies.  The passengers were buzzing about the news reports that Russia was taken by surprise by their German allies, who broke the nonaggression pact that had been signed between Hitler and Stalin two years ago. The Germans had attacked the Soviet Union in what has been considered to be the most brutal campaign in wartime history. Joseph Stalin was blindsided.  He had not heeded the warnings by his advisors that Adolph Hitler would break the agreement and invade the Soviet Union.Kamakura Maru shore leave

The assault occurred in the early morning hours of that day, so Dad promised one of the Russian diplomats whom he had become friendly with during the voyage to Honolulu that he would leave the ship to buy a newspaper hoping to obtain details of the surprise attack. He knew the embassy official wanted to know this news for his country. My father needed to know for his mother, father, sisters and brother.

As he looked around, anxious to find a newspaper reporting the events of the attack, he was approached by a well-dressed stranger. The man identified himself as Mr. Sullivan, and he knew Dad by name.  Since my father had made his travel plans through the embassy, they were expecting him.

My father was questioned about troop movement coming out of Siberia, but he could provide little information since the guards on the train usually drew the shades to hide whatever was happening outside. Dad told him about the warnings from the Japanese police officer, but Mr. Sullivan didn’t seem interested. Was he really as disinterested as he seemed, or did he pass on that information to anyone?  We will never know.


About kjw616

I am a genealogy detective. I have already written one book about my Irish family's journey from 19th century Ireland to the United States- a family history sprinkled with personal anecdotes. My second book was intended to be a similar story about my Russian ancestors. Instead, it turned into a tale of just my father's immediate family. It is the tale of what happens when 6 children from New Jersey are moved to the Soviet Union by their Russian-born parents during the Great Depression. It details who lives, who dies, and who is able to return to NJ during a time when leaving the USSR was not an easy endeavor, particularly during World War II and the Cold War. It is my hope that those interested in history during this time period will find this story fascinating as well as those fellow amateur family historians who will learn some of the tools such as ancestry.com, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
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