Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite died on May 4, in Westland, Mich. as another casualty in the global war against the novel coronavirus. She was 92 years old and the last living Monuments Woman.
She was part of a team of 318 men and 27 women from 14 countries — known as the Monuments Men and Monuments Women — who preserved cultural treasures and artworks during and after World War II.
They were immortalized in the 2014 movie “The Monuments Men,” based on the 2009 book of the same title by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter. Edsel is working on a book about the Monuments Women.
According to The New York Times, their mission in the Pacific Theater was chiefly to assess damage to cultural treasures, prevent looting and return stolen objects. In the course of their work they came across many works of art that no one from the West had ever seen. This required a tremendous amount of inventorying and record-keeping
Motoko Fujishiro was born in Boston on Aug. 24, 1927 to Japanese citizens. Her father, Shinji Fujishiro, a college graduate, came to the U.S. to study at Harvard University’s School of Dental Medicine. Soon after earning his DMD, he returned to Harvard as instructor in orthodontic technique.
Motoko’s early life was spent among the dynamic cultural milieu of Boston academia. She and her mother, Yasuko Fujishiro, would often take walks along the paths of Harvard Yard and sit on the steps of Widener Library. The family was befriended by Langdon Warner, legendary scholar of Asian art and future Monuments Man in Japan following the end of World War II.
The Fujishiro household became the center of the Japanese community in Cambridge. Japanese students, professors, and scholars from the many universities surrounding Boston would flock to parties expertly hosted by Motoko’s mother.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 heralded a new era for the Japanese community in Boston. As a cloud of suspicion followed Japanese nationals, stores began to refuse service to Motoko’s mother while her father began to lose patients at his dental practice. After an official invitation from the U.S. government, the Fujishiro family decided the time had come to seek refuge in Japan.
On June 18, 1942, Motoko, her mother, and her younger brother Katakazu departed the U.S. aboard M.S. Gripsholm. Her father, who had remained in Boston to manage his dental practice, was arrested by the FBI and sent to East Immigration Jail and later shipped to a U.S. internment camp. In September 1943, however, through the efforts of Mrs. Fujishiro and the International Red Cross, he gained passage on the second and final exchange ship to be reunited with his family in Japan.
Motoko arrived in Tokyo in August 1942 and attended the international division of the Sacred Heart Convent School. She survived the terror of a long succession of Allied bombings on Tokyo, in which she saw the house of one of her classmates burned to the ground, and saw food supplies become scarcer by the day. School days soon transitioned into assisting local farmers in the rice fields or peeling mica in a crowded factory. As the war worsened, the school principal arranged for the mica to be brought into the school, where the students peeled mica instead of studying.
Upon the surrender of Japan and the arrival of American troops in Tokyo, the family reunited with many of their friends from Boston, including Warner, who had recently arrived in Tokyo in March 1946 as technical consultant to the Arts and Monuments division of the Civil Information and Education Section under the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP).
Through Warner, Fujishiro secured a job as a clerk typist in the same office. There, she typed the field reports and correspondences of the Monuments Men in the field, including Lt. Cdr. George Stout, Maj. Laurence Sickman, Sherman Lee, Charles Gallagher, and Capt. Walter Popham.
After reinstating her U.S. citizenship, Fujishiro worked at the Exchange Service Division in order to save money to return to the U.S. to attend college. She returned to Boston in 1948 and earned her B.A. in English from Radcliffe College in 1952. Upon her return to Japan later that same year, she served as the personal secretary of John D. Rockefeller III (eldest son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.) at the Imperial Hotel on his brief visits to Japan to see the International House of Japan, which he co-founded with Shigeharu Matsumoto.
From 1955 to 1964, she worked as a teacher at the American School in Japan (ASIJ). She recognized a mutual understanding with her young students, the children of foreign diplomats, businessmen, and missionaries, who shared her experience of beginning new lives in an unfamiliar land with foreign language and customs. Later in life, she referred to her time at the ASIJ as “the happiest ten years of my life.”
In 1964, Fujishiro and her mother returned to America to live with her brother in Columbia, S.C., where she attended the University of South Carolina to receive her M.A. in 1967. From 1967 to 1969, she taught fourth grade at the Schneider Public School in Columbia, S.C. Then she moved to Detroit to pursue her doctorate at Wayne State University.
She married William Ernest Cecil Huthwaite in 1971 and moved from Detroit to Pontiac, Mich., receiving her Ph.D. in elementary curriculum and instruction in 1974 (with a minor in Far Eastern language and literature at the University of Michigan 1971-1972). She returned to teach at WSU as an instructor of children’s literature at both undergraduate and graduate level courses from 1976 to 1982.
From 1986 to 2002, she worked for Gale Research Company, a publishing firm in Detroit specializing in reference books for libraries. There, she worked as an editor on such publications as Something About the Author Autobiography Series, featuring the biographies of authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults. She retired from Gale in 2002 in order to return to Japan to participate in the 100th anniversary of The American School in Japan.
“An active and joyous woman, she stood as an example of the resiliency of the human spirit,” said the Monuments Men Foundation. “Because she lived through some of the greatest horrors of the war between the United States and Japan, she remained a dauntless activist for peace. With a smile, she would often remark that, ‘War is hell, but peace is wonderful.’”
On the Web: https://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/