One More Fight for Redress regarding WWII in Asia

Yuka Ibuki

December 25, 2006 was an enjoyable Indian summer day in Higashi-Maizuru, a northern port facing the Japan Sea. A large group of elderly visitors got off the train, and were welcomed by brightly smiling Mr. Ken Arimitsu, an organizer of NPO, the WWII Redress Network Japan. They were some of the survivors of the POW Internment in Siberia and Mongolia after the end of WW II, mostly for two to four years.

                                                                             Mr. Terauchi and Mr. Arimitsu in Maizuru Bay

Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration and surrendered on August 15, 1945. On August 9, the USSR declared war against Japan and invaded Manchuria. The Kwantung Army, i.e. the Japanese Army in China, occupied northeast China and controlled Manchukuo. As soon as the top officers of the Kwantung Army obtained the information of the attack, they fled to Japan with their families. However, approximately 600,000 lower ranking soldiers, civilian army staff, engineers from the Manchuria Railroad, and even female telephone operators were captured by the USSR Army. This number also included Korean and Taiwanese soldiers, who were conscripted from then Japanese colonies.

On August 23, 1945, under the order from Stalin, the transport of the “Siberian and Mogolian POW Internees” started to slave labor camps. Most Camps were in very cold climates. About 10 % of the internees died of the cold, malnutrition, disease, and work accidents in these camps.  However, accurate statistics on the number of internees and the deaths have yet to be determined. They were interned in a vast area and their experiences varied and some are still missing.*

Stalin’s secret order issued on August 23, 1945 stated, “Select 500,000 Japanese POWs, who are physically fit for manual labor in the Far East and Siberia, and transfer them to Siberia” where they were to engage in Railroad construction, forestry lumbering, and coal mining.  The order also gave detailed instructions regarding the number of POWs allocated to each area. In addition to Stalin’s order, the highest staff member of the Kwantung Army wrote in the “Report to General Wasilevsky: “As for the dealing with the soldiers, please use them to the best of their ability and make them cooperate under the supervision of Your Honorable Army, until they are returned.”**

*,** Why were the Kwantung Army Soldiers Interned in Siberia? by Elena Katasonova, Translation Supervised by Kyuya Shirai, Pub. by Shakai-Hyoron-sha,Tokyo 2004 It discusses the recently discovered USSR materials.

The average age of the survivors, who now number less than 100,000, is 84. Around 70 of them gathered from 20 prefectures of Japan to have a memorial ceremony to commemorate 50th anniversary of the completion of the repatriation at Maizuru, where the Japanese repatriation ships from Nahodka arrived. They were also holding a two-day sketch exhibition on Internment Life, and a forum, to publicize their appeals for justice.

These Internees plead; “In reality, we were offered by our Commanders, or probably by Japan, to the USSR as work force compensation. (***It never is the official view of Japan.) In the Joint Declaration of the USSR and Japan in 1951, Japan abandoned the right of demanding compensation from the USSR. In 1993, then President Yeltsin offered a heartfelt apology for what he called a crime of totalitarianism, and issued certificates of labor to the Internees. The Japanese Government should pay the unpaid wages to us so as to prove we were not slaves.”

Ken Arimitsu serves as secretary for the All Japanese Association of the Former Internees in Siberia and Mongolia. He has a comprehensive understanding of the WWII reparation issues related to Japan. In 2003, the Internees formed the Council for Promoting Legislation for the Internees, and have been fighting, asking the opposition parties for a legislative effort on their behalf. Please refer to the article by Mr. Koichi Ikeda for more details regarding their appeal:  The Japanese Surrendered Personnel, who were still interned after June 1947, were paid a little sum of money by the Japanese Government for their labor.

Riding a chartered bus, the group went to the old quay. For a lot of them it was the first visit since their return to Japan. Mr. Kenji Iwamoto from Shizuoka has an awfully painful memory. “I’m responsible for the brutal deaths of six members of my family.”  As soon as he landed, an official of the Reparation Bureau summoned him. They told him about deaths of all six members of his family, who he had left in the Manchuria Village of Shizuoka as Pioneer Peasants, when he was conscripted into the Kwantung Army. On receiving his draft card, he asked his mother to come from Japan and help his wife with young children. “I didn’t want to believe it, but there was someone who had left all the records of how and when they died…,” he said in tears. A bell at the end of the quay rang a clear sound, and Mr. Tokuzo Noguchi played “On the Foreign Hill” on his harmonica. “Hold on and never fall, my friends. The day will come when we return  home.” Tadashi Yoshida wrote the music for a poem by a comrade to encourage the Internees. When Yoshida finally returned, he was surprised to know the song was already popular in Japan. He became a hit maker on Japanese pop music scene.

Then the bus took them to the Reparation Memorial Museum, an NPO opened in 1988 as a result of many contributors, including Mr. Haruo Minami, a popular singer, who was a former Internee. Life during the internment is vividly reconstructed with various materials, with some current photos of the cemeteries, and so forth.In the Forum on the next day, which was attended by more than a hundred, on top of the Internees, two bereaved children, and Mrs. Toshiko Ozaki (87) who still is waiting for her missing husband talked. Mrs. Ozaki said, “War has never ended for me.”

In 2003, three colleagues and I translated the book by Dr. Lester Tenney, a former US POW, and the POW RNJ held a commemoration party. Tenney was forced to slave labor in the Mitsui Coal Mine. The Internees had a big meeting in Tokyo that day, and some members attended Tenney’s party with Arimitsu. Mr. Koichi Ikeda from Osaka had already met Tenney through Arimitsu and Kinue Tokudome. Ikeda was moved by Tenney’s words, and wrote a letter of support to Tenney.  Tenney quickly responded encouraging Ikeda in his fight for justice. They both are authors of excellent stories of their experiences as POWs. They both tried to keep morale high in terrible circumstances they faced as POWs, trying to lift the spirits of the comrades by putting on theatrical productions in the camps. They both went to war leaving their wives, and the war tragically separated them from their loved ones. On their coming home, they had to give up ‘ the dream’ that supported them in their struggle for survival. But they had never given up, and kept challenging their brutal fate. After succeeding in life, they share the attitude of trying to recover human dignity and justice through lawsuits.

Dr. and Mrs. Tenney with former Siberian/Mongolian POW internees

Tenney, humiliated by the Japanese Army as a POW, was deeply hurt with physical and psychological violence. All his teeth are ‘bought’, and he has difficulty of hearing as his eardrum ruptured during a vicious beating. The problem is also in the right leg and   left shoulder. He seeks recognition and an apology from the Japanese Government and from Mitsui Company for the unreasonable violence and humiliation that damaged human dignity, and he also asked for adequate wages for labor. The US Supreme Court and the policies of the US Government dismissed his pleas for justice.  He has been unable to file a lawsuit against the Mitsui Company.

In Japan, following the first series of law suits by the Internees, which they lost in 1997, Ikeda sued the Japanese Government 1999 to 2004 but he finally lost at the Supreme Court. Then he put the whole history of his legal fight into the PC and opened his homepage in July 2006: http://

The following is a copy of an Op Ed piece he sent to a local paper, who refused to publish it. “On January, 27, another fight of ours ended. The Supreme Court rejected the demand for the unpaid wages of the Siberian Internees. Our seriously violated human rights having never been recovered, we lost the case. I was conscripted by the order of my country, was forcibly taken by Stalin’s order, lost many of my comrades in the starvation, cold, and forced labor, and managed to return from the bottom of the hell. This unprecedented tragedy for Japanese race was a noble sacrifice in the labor compensation to the USSR. We dreamed of our country every night, but did she give a warm welcome to those suffered soldiers? What met us was such a cold reception that we had never expected. The returnees from Siberia were kept at a distance being regarded as ‘red’, were put under strict investigation of the police by the GHQ order for information of the USSR, and experienced cold hearted dealings and difficulty of living.”

Through Japan-Korea Agreement, the Korean former Internees lost the military pension, with Japanese nationality. Ikeda now hopes that the former POWs of Korea, US and Japan would push jointly an appeal to the Japanese Government; for recognition, apology, and adequate compensation.

Why did internment on such a massive scale and long-term slave labor happen after Japan surrendered? The Japanese Government has never made an adequate effort to clarify this question.  And the problem still remains as one of the war reparation issues this government should deal with. In December 2006, a law requiring the payment of compensation to the Internees proposed by the opposition parties was voted down, and the ruling parties’ proposal of doing with the Internees’ appeal by offering them some “comfort present”, such as a travel ticket, was passed. The Internees’ fight still goes on.

Eighty two year old Director Yoshio Terauchi takes train to Tokyo every month, protecting his bad leg, in order to deliver the Newsletter of the Council to the offices of the Diet members. The monthly newsletter is edited by Arimitsu, and several Internees. Those who live in and around Tokyo, with some volunteers, do the printing and mailing, and with Terauchi, deliver a copy to every politician’s office. Terauchi was interned in Komsomolisk, and returned in September, 1947. “It’s not a question of money. We can’t end our life, wearing the shame of slaves.” In the press conference of December 14, he expressed his anger at the Government and ruling parties, who passed their comfort present proposal, and, without “apology” or “compensation”, and talked of “drawing the final curtain” against the appeal. “I’d like a thorough verification of the internment, so that the precise facts be passed on to the next generations. I want our country to act properly so that the international laws of humanity and human rights become well rooted in this country.”

Seventy nine year old Mitsuo Hiratsuka volunteered to the Naval Air Force in 1942 at the age of 15, and after fighting for three years, he was in 901 Naval Air Force in North Korea, when Japan surrendered.  He was sent to the northeast area of Russia, and engaged in lumbering, coal mining, and agriculture. 300 to 400 internees were there, 15% of who died, and 80% of the deaths happened in the first winter. They ate everything edible; snakes, frogs, etc, but he was fortunate having pine trees around, and a kind guard who sometimes roasted the nuts and let the Internees eat them. He returned to Japan in 1949 at the age of 24, but the police followed him right after the landing. After two years of living from hand to mouth, he finally got a job at Tokyo University COOP. Later he opened a coffee shop, and eventually served as chairman of the association of the local shops. Hiratsuka has been active in the Internment issue since 1979. The Japanese Government also spent a lot of money crushing Japan-related war reparation proposals in the US Congress. Hiratsuka wants to continue the fight against the Government, with other groups demanding redress to regain human dignity. Korean Internees of Siberia filed an on-going lawsuit in Japan, and the two groups support each other. “In the Bataan Death March, the POWs must have walked desperate to know where they were going to be taken, or would they be killed after all, and so forth. We were the same all the time, but there was no violence unless we tried to escape.”

Eighty two year old Toyoichi Eguchi represents the “Association for Recording the Japanese POWs in the USSR”. He was interned in Izbestkovaya area in Khabarovsk region for two years.  He engaged in the construction of the BAM Railroad indispensable for the development of Siberia, engaged in lumbering and transport of lumber. He also maintained the railroad tracks, which need constant repair as a result of the wide range of temperature 45degrees below zero in the winter with a wind chill of 50 below. The guards stopped all work until the temperature rose to 40 below.                                                                                                                                                                       Mr. Eguchi showing the locations of camps

The lack of food seriously weakened the Internees, and heavy labor in the cold was terrible. Sanitary conditions were also bad, causing deaths of infectious diseases, fever and malnutrition. The total of the deaths in Khabarovsk was 10,914, and in Izbestkovaya, 2,438 buried in 13 cemeteries according to the research by Tsuneo Murayama. He returned from internment in November 1947, but had difficulty finding a job. Since the latter half of 1950’s, he has worked as a book editor. In the 1980’s he was the leading editor, in the editing of the “POW Experiences” and completed the eight volumes in July, 1998. This series has won the 46th Kan Kikuchi Prize of the year. In the press conference on December 14, he stated, “It has to be clarified how and why the whole internment happened.”

Eighty-seven year old Tsuneo Matsubara is always with his wife, during the monthly newsletter distribution. They got married after the war. He was first conscripted and sent to North China. After he was demobilized, his brother-in-law and his wife, who were in Manchuria working for Anzan Steel Co., invited him to join them. He went to Manchuria, and in July 1945 was drafted again.  He was interned with 500 men engaged in forced labor in Semionovka along the coast of the Maritime Province of Siberia lumbering and farming. It was normally 30 below zero in winter. The sea froze in October and they knew they wouldn’t be able to return to Japan. Sometimes ten died in one night because of starvation or disease. Total of 150 died. Survivors made a fire and dug the slightly melted surface soil with pick axes, and buried the dead. Matsubara returned on October 27, 1949. Being called as a “Returnee from Siberia”, he wasn’t able to find a job, and worked in a noodle factory a relative was running. He is amazingly young at heart, and still enjoys driving a new car bought last year. “Let’s make our best efforts together, everyone, for our friends who couldn’t make it home, so that we wouldn’t remain as slave laborers.”

Eighty one year old Tokuzo Noguchi performed “On the Foreign Hill” at the memorial ceremony also, with emotions and determination for fight. The following is a quote from an article in the Mainichi Daily on April 22, 2005. “We were told by Russian soldiers, ‘Damoi=Return to Tokyo’, but were actually sent by train and boat to the northern part of Korean Peninsula. I spent half a year in desperation.” His facial expression changed when he said, “I was abandoned twice.” The first time was when he was sent to Siberia. He believes the higher-ranking officers of the Japanese Army must have known everything. The second time was when they were sent to North Korea. The USSR must have finished with those who were not fit for labor any more. Noguchi has the labor certificate issued by the Russian Government in 1993, after the fall of the USSR. The duration of labor ends on July 25, 1946, when they left the harbor of Nahodka. A lot of Internment experiences have been published, but there are few describing the fate of the 27,000 Internees who were regarded unfit laborers and sent to North Korea. Noguchi talks or writes about his experiences whenever he has a chance.

Eighty-year-old Toshio Kikuchi was "seduced by the Japanese propaganda," and volunteered for the Japanese Manchuria Volunteer Army at the age of 14 and eight months. “After I arrived in Manchuria, I realized the mistake I’d made.” After two months of training in Japan, he registered in Ichimenbo Training Camp in June 1941, and was instantly mobilized in the Great Kwantung Army Special Training. Under the cover of Training, the Army had spread out all over Manchuria.  However, the Kwantung Army General Staff was divided into two factions, Northern Advancement to invade Russia and Southern Advancement to invade Singapore and the Philippines. When it was decided that the Army would strike south the troops in training for the strike north were demobilized. Kikuchi was stationed in the Wireless Communication Troop 549 in Mukden. On August 16, the USSR entered the city without bloodshed, and the troop surrendered on September 13. He was sent to Tashkent near Afghanistan. The Japanese POWs captured by the USSR in the Battle of River Halha in 1939, had already gained good reputation as diligent and clever workers. The indoor factory work was not cruel. The climate was rather hot, so he suffered from bed bugs and malaria, but Russian nurses forcibly poured into his mouth rice gruel with butter and honey on it, which he believes saved him. He returned to Japan in July 1948. After working in a precision instrument company in northern Hokkaido, he started his own business in that field in 1959, and still works. He has read Tenney’s book, and knew how brutally the Japanese Army treated Allied POWs and about their slave labor. He has renewed anger against the Government of Japan. The US Government, he believes, should not have denied the legitimate appeals made by the US POWs. He has worked since 1979 for the Japanese war orphans left in former Manchuria, helping those who wanted to return to Japan.

Seventy-nine year old Koji Okano registered in the Army Air Force in April 1944, and was at the Harbin airport when the war ended. His group arrived at Izbestkovaya by the Trans Siberian Train on October 26. 12,000 were interned in Terma area of Khabarovsk Province.  He was engaged in lumbering, railroad construction, and road repairs, each for half a year. Then he was hospitalized with infection, and after recovery he served as a medic. He was at a Field Hospital built in 1943, in expectation of war against Japan.  The Hospital had twelve Russian doctors and two Japanese military doctors treating about 90 patients, 60% of whom were in the surgical department. He returned to Japan in June 1949, resumed study at a university, became a teacher, and then has set up his own business. He went back three times to Terma to collect remains of Internees who did not survive. Terma is recognized as a “town built by the Japanese”, and the houses they built are still used by the 2,000 inhabitants of the town. They welcome the former Internees, and take good care of the Japanese cemetery. Since he speaks Russian, Okano has made six visits of the Cemetery and another one in Irukutsuk. Now the Japanese Government apparently plans to dispatch the Self Defense Force abroad. Since all wars produce POWs, Okano wonders if the members of the SDF would follow the order, on knowing the fate of the Siberian Internees. He wants to demand the Japanese Government, “What policy have you got in that situation?”

Professor Masaaki Noda of Kansai Gakuin University, a PhD of mental pathology, and a well-known researcher/author of the Japan’s war in China, gave a closing speech at the Maizuru remberance. He is also active in his opposition to the trend of nationalistic education. ”As you try to convey your experiences, I’d like you to spare 30% of your energy to listening to the war victims of other countries. That will give you greater strength in your fight for reparation. Also please tell your stories to your grandchildren. Grandpa’s experience will certainly remain in their heart.”


-- Yuka Ibuki is Tokyo Representative of US-Japan Dialogue on POWs. Inc.

To  Former Siberian/Mongolian POW Internee Friends

Donald Versaw
Former POW of the Japanese
(Forced laborer at Futase coal mine, Kyushu, Japan)

During the war, we all had hoped Russia would figure in our salvation and often clamored for “Uncle Joe (Stalin) and his boys” to come rescue us. But except for tying down a large enemy army they did nothing. Yet, they imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers after the battles they never fought.

As I learn what these soldiers went through, despite Japanese soldiers then being my enemy, I honestly feel empathetic pains for them. I could feel for them because I'm sure they suffered. No one knows that better than a former POW regardless of his nationality. 

Many people have asked, “I don’t see how you managed to survive so long, Sir, with so little to eat, not enough medical supplies and support, unbearable heat in summer, insufferable cold in winter how did you manage”?  This is a big question but the simple answer is that ever so many did not.  They perished from diseases, malnutrition and brutal abuse.  I am unable to understand how a body could survive very much more than 3 or 4 years.  At Futase another winter would have diminished our numbers to zero, I think.  After seeing the amazing art works done by some of the former Siberian forced laborers, I realized that winters must have been much more severe for them.  

We survivors of war in the Pacific were written off and left to dangle in the wind.  Just as Japanese troops were in Manchuria. In many respects we both still do.  Soldiers all pay the price of the diplomat’s folly. 

I admire former Siberian/Mongolian POW Internees’ respect for their comrades.