Mukden POW Camp

The Japanese military set up a POW camp in Mukden, Manchuria (Northeast China), where 1,202 American POWs arrived in November of 1942 from Manila via Pusan, Korea. It would eventually hold almost 2,000 Allied POWs from the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand.

Most POWs were made to work at the Manchurian Machine Tool Factory, MKK, (Manchu Kosaku Kikai Kabushiki Kaisha) while some others worked at a leather tannery, a textile mill, and a steel and lumber mill.                
                                                                                                                           location of the Mukden POW Camp

During the first winter, nearly 200 POWs perished due to their failing health and appalling living condition of the first camp, which was a very old Chinese military barrack built partly underground. The camp was moved to a newly-built brick facility near MKK in July of1943. Three POWs who escaped were recaptured, tortured and executed.  

On December 7, 1944, two bombs from a B-29 fell within the camp perimeter and killed 19 POWs. Fourteen B-29 crew members were captured and held in the Mukden POW camp, but were isolated from other POWs.

On August 16, 1945, a six-man American OSS (Office of Strategic Services) team parachuted into Mukden to liberate the camp. Soviet troops entered Mukden a few days later and helped the evacuation of POWs. Two members of the OSS team also rescued high ranking Allied officers, including General Wainwright, held in Hsian about 150 miles northeast of Mukden.

For nearly half a century, the history of the Mukden POW camp was not well known to the world, even to the citizens of Mukden (now called Shenyang).  But in recent years, efforts by several researchers and activists have greatly contributed to rediscovering the camp site, preserving it, and awakening people’s interest in what took place at this little known Japanese POW camp.  

In the past several years, the governments of Shenyang and Liaoning Province, with the support from the Chinese central government, have been undertaking a $7 million project to turn the former camp into a historical museum.

Scale model of the Mukden POW camp (Museum display)

What took place at the Mukden POW camp

Chronology (Timeline) of events related to Mukden POW Camp was compiled by Ms. Cynthia B. Caples, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Consulate in Shenyang.

Old photos

                    First POW camp        

 Barracks of the new camp they moved into in July, 1943   
Japanese Dr. Juro Oki


 American medical corpsmen (Bob) Brown, Hunke and Koselski (circa May, 1945)

Video clip of Bob Brown returning to the same site after 60 years, guided by Shenyang historian Yang Jing.


Leaflets like this were dropped over Mukden a few days after Japan's surrender

 leaflets in Japanese were also dropped.

Japanese soldiers after the liberation of the camp

 Video clip of the liberated Mukden POW camp

Chinese historian

A resident of Shenyang, Yang Jing was employed at the U.S. Consulate in 1993. While there he received an inquiry from a survivor of the Mukden Prison.


"I started checking into finding the prison and could find no records at all," said Yang Jing. "It got me interested and I wondered why?"


Shenyang is now a populous city and it appeared at first as if the P.O.W. camp had simply disappeared, or had been replaced by tall apartment buildings.


Yang Jing set out to find the camp. "I stopped in an area where I thought it might have been and asked an older man if he knew anything about the camp," said Yang Jing. "He sent me right to it."


According to Yang Jing the remains of the camp were basically hidden in "plain view". "There are apartment buildings all around it and it looks very small in comparison."


As a historian and a writer Yang Jing felt the story of the prison needed to be told. "I needed to tell my people the history," said Yang Jing. "This is not the way it should be. History shouldn't be lost."

He is the author of Mukden Nirvana, the first book published on the subject in China in 2003 and is now Director/Associate Professor, Mukden Allied POW Camp Studies at Shenyang University.

With visiting POW families from the US at Shenyang University (2007)

Mr. Yang has been helping many former POWs who are returning to the former camp site. His field research helped resolve the mysteries surrounding the two incidents of POW escape.  He also wrote a tribute to the crews of B-29s who flew over Mukden. please read:
POWs Attempted to escape from Mukden
                                     Will Staff Sgt. Lynch be coming home soon?


New book on the Mukden POW camp

Linda Goetz Holmes has just published Guests of the Emperor: The Secret of History of Japan’s Mukden POW Camp (Naval Institute Press, 2010). She was the first Pacific War historian appointed to advise the US government's Interagency Working Group declassifying documents on World War II crimes. She is the author of Unjust Enrichment: American POWs under the Rising Sun and 4000 bowls of Rice: A Prisoner of War Comes Home.

The book extensively quoted former Mukden POWs to describe the hardship experienced by them.

Pfc. Elvin Davis stated to war crimes investigators that “in addition to the horrible living conditions, beatings, slappings and various types of torture became a part of our daily lives. A man would be severely beaten for the least infraction of the rules, and it finally got so bad that the Japanese needed no excuse whatsoever to beat a man.”

Pvt.  Eddy Laursen gave a descriptive statement about the beatings at Mukden:

The beatings consisted of striking the American prisoners of war in the head and about the shoulders with clubs by these [Japanese] officers and by Japanese enlisted men at their direction. The Tortures consisted of ordering American prisoners of war to be confined to the guardhouse for days at a time in the cold weather with insufficient clothing and without blankets; the forcing of American prisoners of war to stand naked or nearly naked in the cold air outside the guardhouse when being searched at the close of each day after returning from the MKK factory at Mukden; forcing the American prisoners of war to do push-ups in or outside of the guardhouse till the prisoner was about to collapse and then placing a saber under his abdomen and forcing him to do more push-ups…

But the most significant part of "Guests of the Emperor" is the statement that some of the POWs held in the Mukden POW camp were experimented on by Unit 731, the biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army.  Ms. Holmes wrote:

Japanese researcher and TV producer Shoji Kondo was the first to correctly translate a key 1943 military order from Japan’s commanding general in Manchuria, enabling me to become the first to show in English that the medical team ordered to visit the Mukden POW camp in 1943 was, indeed, sent from Ishii’s Unit 731 in Ping Fan. Using medical reports from Japanese and POW doctors, postwar trail testimony, and recently declassified documents in the National Archives, it has been possible to finally connect the dots to prove the source from which medical personnel came to the Mukden POW camp.    

"Two Japanese medical personnel passed us down a line, giving each man half an orange. They didn't let us eat it right away. They made us hold them to make sure each man kept his own. Several days later if we hadn't eaten the first half, they gave us the second half and let us eat them. After eating the oranges, we all got sick--stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever. We got into an argument with the doctors over this."   
( Mr. Art "Lu" Campbell who passed away in 2009)

Honoring the men of Mukden

Mr. Shelly Zimbler and his wife Suzanne hosted reunions of Mukden POWs in their hometown, Kingston, NY in 2005, 2007 and 2009.  Suzanne's great uncle, Col. Abe Garfinkel, survived the Bataan Death March and was sent to the Mukden camp.

2005 Mukden reunion the Zimblers organized and hosted

Robert Rosendahl, Hal Leith, Robert Wolfersberger, Robert Brown, Erwin Johnson, Jim Bogart   
       John Bo,   Val Gavito,   Charles Dragich,   Roy Weaver,  Joe Brasel,   Wayne Miller

One of the regular attendees of Mukden reunion is Mr. Hal Leith, the former OSS officer who liberated the Mukden POW camp and who rescued General Wainwright.

Mr. Leith wrote a book about his rescue mission, "POWs of Japanese, Rescued."

Some excerpts from the book can be found here.

                                              Mukden POW Brown, OSS officer Leith and historian Yang

After befriending many former Mukden POWs and spending many years interviewing them, Mr. Zimbler published a book entitled Undaunted Valor, The Men of Mukden... In Their Own Words in 2008. He passed away in June of 2010. Suzanne describes the work of her late husband  as "a labor of love." The Zimblers visited Shenyang with former POWs in 2007.

        Shelly Zimbler with his book                        with Mukden POW Bob Brown    

 Video: Ceremony in Kingston honors POWs and their local advocate (© Daily Freeman)

Activist couple

Ao Wang came to the United States as a graduate student in 1964. While working as a computer engineer, he was active in educating American people on the atrocities that Japan committed in China. 

After his retirement in 2000, Mr. Wang became more involved in the research into the Mukden POW camp as his parents were born in the Shenyang area and went to college there.  When he and his wife Pat, a former children's librarian, visited their daughter and her family who lived in Beijing, he would catch the train to Shenyang and track down this POW camp. There he met Chinese historians and local people, who wanted to make a museum to honor the men held at the Mukden POW camp to show the world what happened in Shenyang, and to point out to the Chinese people that they are not the only ones the Japanese Imperial Army tortured.
 Pat and Ao Wang

Ao has spent hundreds of hours at the US National Archives. They got to know him and started showing him some of the really telling documents. He and his friends emailed over 3000 pages of documents from the archives to the American Consulate in Shenyang, where Ms. Cynthia Caples looked them over and passed them on to the Chinese folks. They based a lot of the museum information on that material.

Ao and his friends organized trips to Shenyang for former Mukden POWs and their families. All together they took over a total of 13 former Mukden POWs (at no cost to the men) and some 80 family and friends (who paid their own way) to see the museum China is creating. 

Later Ao and Pat created a group called "Mukden POW Remembrance Society" (website) whose mission statement is as follows:  

MPOWRS exists to facilitate communication and understanding among all people through education about the courage and sacrifice of Allied prisoners held at the Mukden POW camp in Shenyang, China. By collecting information from those men, preserving it for future research, and sharing the information with others, we hope future generations will turn to peace instead of war. The group will also take former POWs, descendants and other interested people to visit the museum now on the site of the former camp, help gather more information, and help educate younger generations.

American POWs remember life in Japanese prison camp (May,2007)  Reuters article

  (photo: Reuters/Stringer)

                      Museum hallway                                 Former Mukden POW Oliver Allen

Wayne Miller pointing to where he slept                   Inside the barrack in 1945

Listen to NPR program, “Museum to Honor Victims of WW II Prison Camp.

Ron Parsons donates uniform of  his father,  S/SGT John Edward Parsons
                                                   (His father with Russian soldiers after liberation)

                  Three language Board               Incinerator and water tower are original

Mukden POW museum also sent a traveling exhibit to the US, which was seen by many former POWs, their families and those who were interested in the history of the Mukden POW camp.

Former Mukden POW Joe Vater explains the camp model to his sons


No war is a good war, but no history is a bad history

One of the great things about working on the POW issue is to be able to meet wonderful people, be they former POWs or their family members or researchers, and forge a very special friendship with them. When Bataan Death March survivor and former Mukden POW Bob Brown and I met historian Yang Jing in the lobby of the old Yamato Hotel in Shenyang in February of 2005, the friendship we felt for one another was instantaneous. We came from totally different backgrounds (the US, Japan and China), but we felt that the history of the Mukden POW camp brought us closer.

Bob Brown taught us that a friendship was possible even between former enemies. He visited the Japanese Army doctor Oki in Tokyo in mid-50s and reminisced about the Mukden days together.

Bob passed away in October of 2008. Within a few hours of his passing, Mr. Yang called me in California and we shared our sorrow of losing a very special friend.

(Bob Brown visiting Dr. Oki in Tokyo 10 years after the end of WWII)

Mr. Yang once wrote to former Mukden POW Mr. Ken Towery, “No war is a good war, but no history is a bad history. It always tells the right from the wrong. Learning from the history is a lifelong lesson.” Those of us who have been working on the POW issue truly believe that.

And we should try our best not only to learn what happened but also learn from the humanity of each individual POW by looking at the totality of their experience. Mukden POW Roy Weaver who passed away last October had written:

I was severely beaten by the "Bull" (Japanese Captain) one time. I could not hear him well and did not follow his order. He beat me using the sword in the scabbard. He knocked me down four times. I forced myself to stand up each time but at the fifth time I decided to stay down. I had been kicked, slapped and pushed by rifle butt before and they had annoyed me. But this time, I was severely beaten and injured. I still remember it.

Yet he also wrote:

We should tell our story as it was, with the traumatic times and the lighter times. In spite of everything there were moments of humor and of thwarting the Japanese war effort with our dirty little tricks. Compassion was shown by some Japanese. All these make up the whole story, the story as I want to tell it. In other words life and death as it happened.

I can only hope that there will be similar efforts made by Japanese people to learn about what took place at more than 100 POW camps that existed throughout Japan during WWII, as well as camps outside Japan such as the one in Mukden, and about experience of POWs who were held there.
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Here is what Professor Yang Jing would like to see happen:

First and foremost, I would like to see that the Japanese government and companies would release all historical archives and documents related to Mukden Camp or at lease release them to academic studies and Chinese scholars. 

I have long been hoping to visit the War History Studies at the Japanese Defense Ministry.  I tried several times to contact them if they could receive my academic visits but got no positive response. 

Basically, most of the current studies are based upon oral history and or one-sided stories.  Therefore, open access to such materials will definitely help a better understanding of the history, or eliminate misunderstanding if there would be any.  

Secondly, I personally would like to have the opportunity to visit and interview Japanese survivors of Mukden Camp.  This will be also the efforts to hear all-sided stories, because their oral history is equally important to academic purposes.  However, this quite depends on their willingness to receive my interview.  And my understanding is that it is quite hard to find Japanese Mukden survivors. 

Lastly, I would like to see that awareness of this history be introduced in educational level so that our younger generation will have a better understanding of WWII history.

* Case study: American POWs in Mukden" can be found at pp. 84-89 in "Researching Japanese War Crimes Records: Introductory Essay by Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records," Interagency Working Group.

                                                                                             posted on January 27, 2011