Nick Golodoff, author of the book Attu Boy, passed away earlier this month at the age of 77. His memoir about the World War II internment of the Aleut village by the Japanese brought attention to one of the most obscure corners of American history.
As he told KUCB in an interview last year, he was born on the western Aleutian island of Agattu in December 1935, while his parents were fox trapping.
“But I was really from Attu, so I grew up to the age of six in Attu, and never once lived there ever again, because Japanese took me to Japan when I was six years old.”
Golodoff remembered the day the Japanese landed. He was following an older boy toward the beach when he heard unfamiliar sounds.
“Alex Prossoff is the one I was following, and he started running and I ran after him. And I see pieces of mud flying in front of me. I didn’t know why the piece of mud was flying, until later, so much later, I found out it was bullets that were hitting the ground.”
The Japanese occupied the village for nearly three months before putting the Attuans on a freighter. They spent the whole journey in the cargo hold.
“I don’t know how long we’ve been in the hatch, but when we got to Tokyo, they let us out and look around. And then put us back down and took us to Hokkaido, and that’s where they left us.”
The villagers spent three years teetering on the edge of starvation. Although Golodoff was among the 25 Attuans who survived the internment, he never returned to the island. The U.S. government forced families to resettle in Atka, 600 miles to the east. Golodoff went to school there, and spent lots of time outdoors.
“I used to hunt every day, I used to walk all day,” Golodoff said. “Pack a whole reindeer home from miles away. I used to leave in the morning and home at dark. Until I got a boat. I built my own wooden boat, bought the oars and used to oar, row and hunt like that until I got a motor. I used to hunt all the time.”
In his teens, Golodoff started working seasonally in the Pribilof Islands, harvesting fur seals. Later on he worked at the Atka airport, and for the last 30 years was a maintenance worker at the school.
“NG:They don’t want to fire me because they can’t find my replacement. [laughs] SJ: Do you ever talk to the kids in the school about your experiences?
NG: No, no. Some teachers want me to do that, but I cannot speak in public, I’m not used to that. I never did that in my life, so I don’t know how to do it.”
Instead, Golodoff wrote down his story with the help of his granddaughter, Brenda Maly, and National Park Service anthropologist Rachel Mason.
Mason says the Attuans’ story never would have been told otherwise, because the older survivors didn’t talk about it.
“And his perspective was different.For example, he had very warm feelings towards Japanese people. And he’s pictured on the cover of Attu Boy as a small child riding on the back of a Japanese soldier. So the eyes of a child were really unique.”
Mason also credits Golodoff with bringing together the descendants of Attu survivors during a reunion organized by the National Park Service last year.
“At one of the events at the Attu reunion, he was signing his book. And it was just such a symbol of their pride in being from Attu, in the fact that Nick, the oldest person that had actually lived on Attu, had produced this memoir that told the story of their community. So, I think it’s a big loss, and yet I’m happy that he was able to be there and to be that symbol of unity for them.”
Golodoff will be laid to rest in Atka.