Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Chapter 6 - Aftermath

Hakodate-Shi-shi, the History of Hakodate city, says that after the murder German and British naval fleets entered Hakodate harbour causing great alarm and disorder in the city. Such fears would not have been unreasonable. Eleven years earlier, following the murder of an Englishman, British ships had shelled and burnt down the town of Kagoshima. On that occasion Britain had demanded an indemnity of £100,000. However, in that case the murderers had never been identified – at least so the local authorities had claimed. The British had not believed them. The Hakodate case was much clearer. The murderer had proudly identified himself.

There is nothing in the memoirs of von Brandt, the German ambassador, nor in a very detailed diary kept by Eusden, the British consul at Hakodate, to suggest that a punitive expedition was ever planned or sent. So what could have given rise to the panic among the population?

Five days after the murder, apparently quite by chance, a Russian corvette, the “Ascold” came into harbour. The commander – an Admiral Brummer - found the small foreign community, which included Russians, in a great state of agitation. They feared the Haber assassination could be the beginning of a concerted xenophobic campaign. The admiral decided, on his own authority, to stay in port until a man-of-war expected from Yokohama arrived. Probably he thought he might have to help with an evacuation of foreigners. A little later the German corvette “Elisabeth” came in, ferrying von Brandt’s observer. Corvettes were normally equipped with twenty cannons, so the apprehension of the Hakodate population, having twice twenty cannons trained on them was not unreasonable. [80]

The Japanese population and the small foreign community were equally nervous. As we have seen, so were the police: they had blocked the harbour temporarily. They had placed a special watch on members of the down-graded warrior caste and were putting special guards on the beach where foreign children sometimes bathed. Despite these protective measures the foreign community remained jittery. Police records say –

We received from foreigners rumours that Tazaki Hidechika’s confederates nearly ten in number had come into the harbour. We enquired… and found that this was groundless, with no evidence at all…. We told the foreigners … that whatever they came across concerning this affair, we would be ready to hear it.[81]

The state of agitation gave rise to weird rumours:

This morning there was a report in town that the prisoner had attempted to bite off his tongue and that all his front teeth had been extracted in consequence.[82]

What is true is that at one stage Hidechika refused to be interrogated in the presence of foreigners and had maintained silence. It may have given rise to these curious rumours. A few days later the consul’s diary clarifies -

On 18th the prisoner appeared to be still in possession of his teeth. No doubt the rumour arose – as so many do – on a mere supposition. [83]

The general agitation was short-lived. The British consul minuted on 20th August that “all continues quiet….the authorities are evidently on alert for the safety of foreigners”[84]

The day after the assassination was to have been a festival of Matsuri.* The foreign consuls suggested that such jollifications would be inappropriate. The Japanese authorities – to the surprise of the consuls - consented immediately and cancelled the festivities. The consuls themselves went into mourning for Ludwig Haber for 30 days.

The German Foreign Office was in telegraphic contact with Japan. A press release issued in Berlin reported the murder of a Consul Haber. In the beginning his brothers and sisters were not certain that this referred to Ludwig. They did not know he had been nominated consul - not until a letter from him, written four weeks before his death, reached his brother Julius. This letter has not been preserved. However, a letter from Julius to an unidentified family member[85] does survive. This quotes Ludwig’s letter which had said that he had been acting as consul for some time but was awaiting official confirmation. He had great hopes for his future in view of this appointment. [86]

Tributes and obituaries for Ludwig flowed in. In life he had not been a man of great prominence. In death he became so – at least briefly. Von Brandt’s letter of condolence to Julius probably went beyond the strict demands of diplomatic politesse:

With the sad news I have to convey to you, perhaps it could be of some comfort to you to know of the general love and respect which your brother attracted. As you know it was I who … entrusted the management of the Hakodate consulate to him. But not I alone, all Germans here and many of other nationalities whose friendship and respect the deceased knew how to win, are overcome with sadness at the loss that you, and we, have suffered. The participation of every foreigner at his funeral on the 12th provides proof of this.

According to the British consul, all the Japanese authorities “without one exception” also attended the funeral. This indicates a change of atmosphere. In earlier murders in other parts of the country foreign ambassadors had had to threaten to send troops to force Japanese dignitaries to attend. Von Brandt’s letter of condolence continued:

I have given instructions that a special memorial ceremony be held at his graveside after the arrival of the ship Elisabeth at Hakodate.[87]

This may have involved the participation of a naval guard of honour.

The Oderblatt came back to the Haber story several times, amplifying and correcting earlier reports. Information dribbled in slowly, sometimes by hard to decipher handwritten letters. Thus one of the early reports says Ludwig’s mutilated body had been found “near the horse by which the deceased had intended to proceed to the beach”. A later issue corrected this to “near the path”. Pfad – path - had been misread for Pferd – horse.

The Oderblatt editor, who wrote the obituary - appears to have been a personal friend.

So sudden an end – a world away from home – came to this valiant son of Brieg – our dear, sincerely admired friend! There perished by murderous hand a blossoming human life, full of hope, of tireless striving, ever bravely battling all obstacles, never shrinking from immeasurable distances and dangerous climes and embracing whatever tribulations were brought about by distant enterprise. “The good die young” – this moving plaint by the English poet comes true with this capable, noble human being. His heart was not ‘dry like the dust of summer’, as are the hearts of many which ‘burn down to the last stump’…. We reserve the right to come back to memories of his … worldwide travels and the capable labours of this brave heart – our dear friend. We are … still awaiting detailed news of the circumstances of his death.
What he saw of the world and how he saw it, he wrote down by his own hand for the Oderblatt in his reports ‘From Brieg around the World’ – a valuable souvenir of our dead friend…. His heart was warm and of good will, his spirit looked upwards. He rejected all that was mean, small-minded or malicious…. His memory will be held in honour. 88

A later report said that in his will he had left money for the royal gymnasium, his old school, ‘showing even in death that noble, upright spirit that will long be held in honour’. This refers to the money Ludwig left for a scholarship for a poor student.

There were late repercussions of the murder. The German ambassador wrote in his memoirs –

Some time later I received information that the grave of the murderer, whose corpse had been returned to his native city and been buried there, was being decorated daily with flowers and had become a place of pilgrimage. I went to the Minister for External Affairs to complain about these occurrences. The same immediately expressed willingness to issue the required orders but added that this would probably not accomplish anything. “Look,” he said, “Eto was executed as a rebel and his head exhibited in public and yet his grave is being honoured in the same way as the grave of your murderer. This is not a sign of disrespect for the Mikado or the government, but an expression of the agitation triggered in Japan by any deed that is way out of the ordinary.” In view of my knowledge of the Japanese I had to concede that he was right.[89]

The rebel referred to was Eto Shinpei, the leader of a failed Saga rebellion.
Hidechika’s gravestone at Akita appears to have been forgotten and no longer attracts pilgrims. A local historian only succeeded in tracking it down fairly recently. It had been moved to a section of the graveyard where the stones of graves no longer visited have been concentrated.

Hidechika Tazaki's grave - Unvisited today
Ludwig Haber was buried in the Yamase-damari cemetery (now Funami-cho) at Hakodate. In 1923 the gravestone was replaced by a replica and the original removed to the site of assasination. The area had, in the meantime, been turned into a public park. An explanatory inscription was added to the plinth.*

* There is an error in the German on the gravestone. Unserer Bruder should read Unser Bruder - our brother

The Japanese-German Society Hakodate remembers Ludwig every year on August 11th at a get-together ‘well watered’ (according to one participant) by German beer. From time to time German ambassadors attend this occasion.[90] The founder of the Hakodate library, Mr. K. Okada, organised similar ceremonies in the 1930’s. One wonders whether during the Nazi period German ambassadors attended these celebrations for a Jew.

The gravestone and its replica contain the words “Friede seiner Asche”- peace to his ashes. Yet even seventy years after his death controversy still surrounded these ashes. In 1943, in the midst of World War II, a major-general Sasaki complained of the alien script in a public place which he passed every day. He found it offensive and ordered the Hakodate City Council to destroy the monument. Mr. Okada protested. In 1923 he had been responsible for the gravestone being re-sited to the murder site and for the explanatory plaque on the plinth. In 1943 Okada explained that the language of the memorial was German – the language of an ally – and that it commemorated a German consul. This saved the memorial – temporarily. Mr. Okada died the following year and now the xenophobic officer had his way. Did he sympathize with Hidechika Tazaki, the assassin? Or did he simply regard any alien script – no matter whether German or English – an insult on the sacred soil of Japan. He ordered one lieutenant Kinoshita to destroy the gravestone. It disappeared. The replica in the foreigners’ cemetery, over the actual grave, was left untouched. (In the same year a memorial to the Perry ‘visit’ was destroyed elsewhere.) In 1947 the local paper referred to the destruction of the Hakodate memorial.. Some time later Lieutenant Kinoshita appeared – now in civilian clothes - and revealed that though he had reported to his superior that the gravestone had been smashed, he had, in fact, buried it discreetly. He pointed out the site and in 1949 it was dug up and re-erected at the murder site. [91]

At the 1924 ceremony the same Mr. Okada had distributed a card with a German translation of the plinth inscription. Fritz Haber brought copies back to Germany and distributed them among members of Ludwig’s family. This says that the memorial was erected to ‘immortalize the memory of the man who died as a victim of the opening up of the port of Hakodate.’
As one looks at Japan today – the second most important industrial power on earth – there can be little doubt who would have applauded this modernisation and the social changes that it brought about and who might have been deeply perturbed – the foreign consul or the native-born samurai.

* An error: it should have been Blakiston

* A thanksgiving festival for a good harvest or for an epidemic avoided

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