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10 Questions: Lawyer's memoir recalls growing up Jewish in Japan during WWII

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Isaac Shapiro

Photos courtesy of Isaac Shapiro

Suddenly, everyone is interested in Isaac “Ike” Shapiro’s childhood. It’s easy to see why. His parents, Jewish émigrés from Russia, were living in Berlin when Adolf Hitler began his rise to power. Sensing danger, they fled, eventually settling where they thought their young family would be safe: Japan. That changed on Dec. 7, 1941. And Shapiro detailed his unique experience during World War II—including how he became a U.S. Marine Corps translator at age 14 and eventually moved to the United States—in a self-published book almost 10 years ago. He also became a citizen, veteran and lawyer, ultimately learning to speak four different languages.

Last year, an agent discovered Shapiro’s memoir, called Edokko: Growing Up a Foreigner in Wartime Japan. Then they worked together to re-edit, update and re-issue it in both print and Kindle editions and also as an audiobook, read by Shapiro. There’s even a screenplay set to be shopped around to Hollywood studios. That means Shapiro, who turned 87 in January, now finds himself juggling his position as of counsel in the New York City office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom with book promo events and interview requests from NPR and other outlets.

Congratulations on the renewed excitement surrounding your book! How does it feel?

I didn’t think the book would have a second life, especially commercially, so it’s very exciting. My grandchildren have even been reading it. They’re quite interested in learning about our family’s background, and that’s something that ordinarily doesn’t interest grandchildren.

Your parents fled Europe in the 1920s for China and later Japan. Was Japan a welcoming place for Jewish people?

Oh, very much so. They showed no hostility whatsoever. My parents were musicians, so they were very welcome. My father was a cellist and also a composer and a conductor; my mother was a pianist. They helped to start the first opera-class symphony orchestra in Tokyo.

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This article was published in the May 2018 issue of the ABA Journal with the title "War and Remembrance: Lawyer’s memoir of growing up Jewish in Japan during WWII may be headed for the big screen."

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