Prisoner of War Learns To Forgive, Reconciles With His Interrogator
Author tortured in World War II tells of his journey to a genuine tie with former enemy
'Sometime the hating has to stop.'' This is the final sentence of ''The Railway Man,'' by Eric Lomax. The preceding narrative is a detailed account, by a Scottish septuagenarian with a sharp memory, of his torture during World War II - and of his recent, surprising moves toward coming to terms, in a profoundly touching way, with decades of bitterness.
''The traditional POW attitude,'' Mr. Lomax told me, ''as far as one can summarize it, is: 'Don't forget, don't forgive.''' He held aloft, against the sun, an umbrella that his untiringly considerate wife, Patti, had brought out for him as we sat chatting in their rose-filled garden. ''POWs tend to dwell on ... the need for bitterness,'' he adds knowingly.
That was the way he felt into the late 1980s about his experience as a prisoner of war in Japan, despite valued help since 1987 from a unique organization in London, The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. He describes director Helen Bamber as sympathetically and patiently uncovering and bringing ''back into the light'' the ''hidden traces'' of torture.
As recently as 1991, Lomax admits, he still ''had not spoken to a single Japanese person since 1945.... I was not inclined to forgive.''
Now things have changed. ''The difference between Eric today, and Eric even just a few years ago, is quite incredible,'' says Mike Finlason, maker of a moving documentary film called ''Enemy, My Friend?'' about the unprecedented event in 1993 that was catalytic in changing Lomax's perceptions. At that time he met and forgave one of his Japanese torturers.
In the war, Lomax was a Royal Signals officer attached to the 5th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. He was among the thousands captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore.
Sent to work as an engineer in the lower reaches of the infamous Siam-Burma railway, he was one of six POWs held responsible by the Japanese for surreptitiously making and operating a radio, and, in his case, drawing a map. He was subjected to pitiless thuggery and extreme torture followed by a squalid imprisonment he describes as ''the valley of the shadow of death.''