Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mitsubishi Materials Apology to an American POW

Former POW of Japan James Murphy who was a slave laborer in Mitsubishi Material's Osarizawa Copper Mine in Sendai sitting next to Ms. Jan Thompson president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society and daughter of former POW who was held in Mukden, China.

Murphy's POW Memoir
click to order
The apology was delivered in Japanese by Mr. Hikaru Kimura, a Senior Corporate Executive of Mitsubishi Materials Corporation and Senior General Manager of Global Business Management at Paint Finishing System Division of Taikisha Ltd. He did not use the formal apology word shazai and  he described the POWs as being "forced to work under harsh condition" as opposed to "forced" or "slave" labor,

The formal text was distributed in English. It was accepted and appreciated with grace and exuberance. Mr. Murphy said, "it is a glorious day."

Mitsubishi Material's apology, constrained by an impenitent political climate, will be strengthened over time by the truth. The apology is a beginning and an opening. It allows the POW history of endurance and misery to be told and believed. The telling of this history will make it clear that it was Mitsubishi that purchased the men, that forced them to work in horrific conditions, and that allowed them to be beaten and maimed for the war effort. Mitsubishi was not merely a collaborator. The Mitsubishi Zaibatsu had an unofficial seat on Tojo's wartime Cabinet.

Here is the statement released in Los Angeles, California at the Museum of Tolerance by Mitsubishi Materials Corporation on July 19, 2015. We will post the Japanese as soon as we can obtain it. Neither, as of July 24, 2015, on the MMC website.

Statement by Mitsubishi Materials Corporation 
Senior Executive Officer Hikaru Kimura in the Meeting With 
a Former American POW and Families of Former POWs

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, speaking on behalf of Mitsubishi Materials, thank you very much for this opportunity to meet with you today at the Museum of Tolerance.

Mitsubishi Mining Company Limited, the predecessor of Mitsubishi Materials, was engaged in coal and metal mining during World War II. As the war intensified, prisoners of war were placed in a wide range of industries to offset labor shortages. As part of this, close to 900 American POWs were allocated to four mines operated by Mitsubishi Mining in Japan.

I joined Mitsubishi Materials as a postwar baby-boomer and have worked in the company for 34 years. I have read the memoirs of Mr. James Murphy, who is present here at this ceremony, and those of other former POWs, as well as records of court trials. Through these accounts, I have learned about the terrible pain that POWs experienced in the mines of Mitsubishi Mining.

The POWs, many of whom were suffering from disease and injury, were subjected to hard labor, including during freezing winters, working without sufficient food, water, medical treatment or sanitation. When we think of their harsh lives in the mines, we cannot help feeling deep remorse.

I would like to express our deepest sense of ethical responsibility for the tragic experiences of all U.S. POWs, including Mr. James Murphy, who were forced to work under harsh conditions in the mines of the former Mitsubishi Mining.

On behalf of Mitsubishi Materials, I offer our sincerest apology.

I also extend our deepest condolence to their fellow U.S. POWs who worked alongside them but have since passed away.

To the bereaved families who are present at this ceremony, I also offer our most remorseful apology.

This cannot happen again, and of course, Mitsubishi Materials intends to never let this happen again.

We now have a clear corporate mission of working for the benefit of all people, all societies and indeed the entire globe. Respecting the basic human rights of all people is a core principle of Mitsubishi Materials, and we will continue to strongly adhere to this principle.

Our management team wishes for the health and happiness of our employees every day, and we ask that all of them work not only diligently, but also with a sense of ethics.

Mitsubishi Materials supplies general materials that enrich people’s lives, from cement to cellphone components and auto parts, all of which are closely related to people’s lives. We also place a strong emphasis on recycling for more sustainable societies, such as recovering valuable metals from used electrical appliances and other scrapped materials.

Here in the United States, we have plants for cement and ready-mixed concrete, and a sales headquarters for our advanced materials and tools business, all in California, as well as a polysilicon plant in Alabama. We believe that our company provides fulfilling jobs for local employees and contributes to host communities through its business.

The American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Museum in Wellsburg, West Virginia archives extensive records and memorabilia of POWs. These records and memorabilia will be handed down to future generations for educational purposes.

I will visit the museum the day after tomorrow to view the exhibits and visualize how POWs were forced to work under harsh conditions. For now, however, I am pleased to announce that Mitsubishi Materials has donated 50,000US dollars to the museum to support its activities.

Finally, I sincerely thank Ms. Kinue Tokudome and the members of the American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Memorial Society for creating this opportunity to meet with you today. I also express my sincere thanks to Rabbi Abraham Cooper for offering the Museum of Tolerance as a venue for the ceremony. And I express my deep gratitude to all others involved in arranging this gathering.

I would also like to thank the family members of a non-U.S. POW who have come from very far away to attend this ceremony.

I truly hope that this gathering marks the starting point of a new relationship between former POWs and Mitsubishi Materials.

Thank you very much.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Singapore Botanic Gardens

click for more photos of steps built by Australian POWs
On July 4, 2015, Singapore's Botanic Gardens became an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Established since 1859, the 74-hectare Singapore Botanic Gardens is thrice the age of the Singapore nation-state. It joins the ranks of picturesque, historically valuable sites around the world such as Italy’s Cinque Terre, the UK's Kew Gardens, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the Great Wall of China.

For this blog, its wartime history is what is fascinating. This history was included, unlike in Japan's UNESCO application, in Singapore's description of the site and its application.

On February 15, 1942 Singapore fell to Imperial Japanese forces. Within a few days of the Japanese occupation, Professor Hidezo Tanakadate of Tohoku University assumed control of the Gardens and Museums, and asked some of the senior staff who were not in uniform to resume their work in the Gardens. Other staff members were not as fortunate, and were sent to work on the Siam-Burma Railway, where many lost their lives.

The Japanese kept the Gardens as a center of research activity. This was made possible because the Gardens and Japanese staff shared a common goal and belief in preserving the cultural and scientific heritage of Singapore. Their motives were different, but both placed science above animosity. The result was preservation of the Gardens and its invaluable research properties.

Kwan Koriba, Botany Professor from the Imperial University of Kyoto, became Director in December 1942. With a background in the relations between plant behavior and climate, Koriba immersed himself in research on the growth habits of selected Malayan trees using both the Garden’s Rain Forest and the Nature Reserves and produced a scientific paper entitled “Periodicity of Tree-growth in the Tropics”.

During the war, a set of brick steps down to the Plant House were built by Australian POWs. In August 1995, upon the 50th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities, a group of veteran POWs from Australia came to the Gardens to examine the steps they had built with bricks marked with arrows. The POWs had made bricks at a brickworks in Changi Prison.

Marks of defiance 
As an act of rebellion against their Japanese captors, the POWs carved arrows into the bricks to show that the staircases belonged to the state instead of the soldiers. The bricks were state property, they were not.

The Japanese were likely not aware of the meaning of the arrows, and if discovered, the prisoners would probably have been punished severely. Today, the arrows serve as a reminder of their bravery at a time of great hardship.

Mitsubishi Materials Apology to the American POWs

See Michael John Grist's incredible photos
of the ruins of MMC's Osarizawa Copper Mine
On Sunday, July 19, 2015, at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Mitsubishi Materials Company (MMC) plans to offer an apology to the American POWs who slaved in four of their mines on mainland Japan during WWII.

This is significant and important.

Mitsubishi Materials Company, the successor to Mitsubishi Mining, is the first and only Japanese company among the nearly 60 that used and abused POW slave labor to offer a formal public apology to either American or Allied POWs. Nearly all these 1940s companies still exist, still are related to the same wartime company, and still operate similar facilities at the POW camp sites. To our knowledge, MMC is not planning apologies to their British, Australian, Dutch, Canadian, New Zealand, and South African POW slave laborers. It is also unknown how closely the "apology" will follow the hollow words of Abe apologies.

A good apology needs to accepted by the victims. It needs to include mechanisms for the perpetrators to learn. And it needs focus on the experience of the victims. Most important it is a process that does not end with words or an explanation that the company is a new one.

click to order
The Mitsubishi Materials Company delegation will then travel to Wellsburg, West Virginia on the morning of Tuesday, July 21st. At the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum, Education & Research Center the delegation will present an apology and an unspecified donation for educational projects on the POW of Japan experience. Ed Jackfert, twice former ADBC National Commander and US Army Air Corps in the Philippines, who was a slave laborer for Mitsui, Showa Denko, Nisshin Flour Milling will attend the ceremony.

Six POW camps on Japan’s homeland were associated with the Mitsubishi Zaibatsu during the war and held 2,041 POWs (including 1,148 Americans, the others were British, Australian, Dutch, Canadian, New Zealand, and South African). One of these camps was associated with four Mitsubishi industrial sites in Nagasaki recently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Four of the camps were part of Mitsubishi Mining that is today’s Mitsubishi Materials Company. The Company still owns these mines. (Market Cap $4.8 billion)

Three of mines are now operated as museums and amusement parks by a subsidiary of MMC. None of the descriptive materials at these sites mention the history of forced and slave labor.

click to order
At liberation in late August 1945, 1568 POWs (including 876 American POWs) were found in four POWs camps operated by Mitsubishi Mining Co. There were records of 30 POWs deaths (including 27 Americans).

Newspapers report that the apology will be a formal “shazai,” which even the government of Japan has never used. But we do not know what the actual document will say.

The Chairman of Mitsubishi Corporation Yorihiko Kojima and a Mitsubishi Materials board member, Foreign Policy Expert Yukio Okamoto are both on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Commission on a Framework for the 21st Century” generally referred to as his "history committee". It appears that these men were thoughtful and brave, considering the political restrictions they currently work under, to put forward Mitsubishi Materials to offer this apology to the American POWs.

Mr. Okamoto will be at the apology ceremony in LA. He will be joined by former POWs Mr. James Murphy, a survivor of Mitsubishi’s Osarizawa Copper Mine and Dr. Lester Tenney, a survivor of Mitsui’s Miike Mine. Both men fought on Bataan against Imperial Japan's invasion and survived the Bataan Death March and a Hell ship to Japan.

Also there will be Ms. Kinue Tokudome who has tirelessly devoted the last 15 years to seeking Japan's acknowledgement and apology for the POW tragedy. She negotiated with representatives of Mitsubishi Material's corporate social responsibility staff for this moment. Ms. Tokudome's friend, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, is the host of the event.

Also attending is a daughter of a POW held at Mukden Ms. Jan Thompson who is president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society, the national organization representing the American POWs of Japan, their families, their descendants, and scholars. A professional filmmaker who has completed two documentaries on the POW experience with Imperial Japan, Tragedy of Bataan and Never the Same, she will be filming the event.

click to order
So far, there is no mention of memorials, inclusion in the company histories, correction of websites, or descriptions at the Mitsubishi Materials-owned theme parks at the now-defunct mines or at the new UNESCO World Heritage sites in Japan that used POW slave labor.

Laura Hillenbrand, the author of the best-seller UNBROKEN, 1936 Olympian and POW Louie Zamperini’s biography, issued this statement regarding the historic actions taken by Mitsubishi Materials:
I wish to extend my thanks to Mitsubishi Materials for offering an apology to the prisoners of war who, during World War II, were forced to labor for their company. I hope this gesture brings some measure of healing to the POWs who suffered so terribly, and I hope Mitsubishi’s gesture will inspire other Japanese companies to reach out to those who were subjected to similar treatment. For the former POWs, I wish you only peace.
Below is a list of Mitsubishi Zaibatsu POW camps with nationality breakdowns of their Western slave laborers. POWs were sent to Japan starting in early 1942 to make up for war production labor shortages. The first American POWs were from Guam and Wake Island.

It should be further noted, that most of the "Hell ships" that transported the POWs to Japan were built and operated by the Mitsubishi Zaibatsu.

Mitsubishi-related POW Camps on Mainland Japan at a glance:

Sendai 3's Amusement Park
Sendai 3-B Hosokura
Lead/Zinc Mining
Mitsubishi Mining Co.
Today’s Mitsubishi Materials

TOTAL (at liberation): 284 POWs; 235 Americans; 47 British; 2 Dutch.

Camp Information
Amusement Park

Sendai Camp 6-B Hanawa (Osarizawa)

Copper Mining
Mitsubishi Mining Co.
Today’s Mitsubishi Materials

TOTAL (at liberation): 546 POWs; 495 Americans; 50 British; 1 Australian.

Tokyo 1-D Yokohama formerly Tokyo 2-B

Ship yard labor and ship construction
"The Yokohama-Mitsubishi Shipyards"
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

Approximately 272 American POWs. *Most Americans were sent to Main Camp (Omori) and Mitsushima after camp closed on May 13, 1945. No official roster located.

Camp Information

Osaka 19-B became 4-B Ikuno
Silver/Copper Mining
Mitsubishi Mining Co.
Today’s Mitsubishi Materials

TOTAL (at liberation): 440 POWs; 44 Americans; 387 British; 8 Australians; 1 Dutch; 2 Canadians; 2 New Zealanders.

Camp Information

Osaka 21-B became 6-B Akenobe

Copper Mining
Mitsubishi Mining Co.
Today’s Mitsubishi Materials

TOTAL (at liberation): 298 POWs; 102 Americans; 168 British; 28 Australians.

Camp Information

Fukuoka 14-B Nagasaki

Iron foundry labor
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
Today’s Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works Saiwaimachi Plant

TOTAL (at liberation): 201 POWs; No Americans; 157 Dutch; 24 Australians; 20 British.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Annals of Mitsui's Miike Mine: Charles Kamendat

Kamendat at 20
Note: Mr. Kamedat passed away August 9, 2015

In 1940, when 19-year-old Charlie Kamendat enlisted in the Army and left Port Huron, he was lean and well-muscled from a year of manual labor with the Civilian Conservation Corps. He weighed maybe 150 pounds.

Five years later, when he emerged from Japanese prison camp at Mitsui's Miike coal mine in Kyushu at the close of the Second World War, he weighed 60 pounds. He had been brutalized by Japanese soldiers and civilians alike. He survived battle, disease, starvation, maddening confinement, and senseless beatings.

He was a skeleton with a pulse, a survivor of Corregidor and Palawan and Nagasaki, someone who had endured 39 months of slave labor.

"I was a healthy young man when I went into the service," Kamendat said. "I came back a broken man."

KAMENDAT, 94, among the last of his generation. He lives at a nursing home in Fort Gratiot, Michigan and recently was widowed. His wife, of 66 years, Maxine died June 9, 2015.

Here's his story, taken in large part from a newspaper column written in December 2014.

Kamendat 79 in 2000
Kamendat was born in Detroit on July 17, 1921, but he grew up in Port Huron, Michigan during the Depression.

He quit school after 10th grade and worked for a year with the Civilian Conservation Corps in Wisconsin. Afterward, he returned to Port Huron and took a factory job, but didn't much like it.

"I joined the Army in 1940," he recalled. "I went to the recruiting sergeant and said, 'How far can I get from Port Huron?'

"He said, 'How about Manila in the Philippines? It's 12,000 miles.'" He became part of the US Army's Coast Artillery Corps, 59th Coast Artillery Regiment, 3rd Battalion, K Battery. His job was harbor defenses of Manila And Subic Bay

HE ARRIVED at Corregidor, an island-fortress in Manila Bay, in May 1941. When Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, the 59th was at battle stations. He was assigned the searchlight battery at Ft. Mills, helping man fixed 60" Searchlights Nos, 1 thru 8, plus a number of 60" and 30" mobile seacoast searchlights.

Saturation bombing and artillery fire was started against Corregidor on December 29, 1941, and by the middle of January 1942, no spot on the island was more than 25 yards from a shell or bomb crater. During this period, the 59th fired the first rounds that any U.S. Artillery unit had fired in a coast artillery role since the Civil War.

For five months, against overwhelming odds, American and Filipino defenders held out on Bataan Peninsular and at Corregidor, the "Gibraltar of the East." [Siege of Corregidor]

"After you run out of everything, what can you do?" Kamendat asked. "We exhausted everything we had."

On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered. On May 6, 1942, the besieged defenders of Corregidor surrendered.

Three Presidential Unit Citations, embroidered Bataan, Manila and Subic Bay, and Defense of the Philippines, were awarded to the 59th regiment along with the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation streamer, for the defense of the Philippines from 7 December 1941 to 6 May 1942, The Campaign Streamer embroidered Philippine Islands is carried on the unit colors.

As a POW, Kamendat felt the racism and anger of the Japanese victors. He witnessed the contempt Japanese soldiers felt for their prisoners.

"They really liked to embarrass people," he recalled. "When Corregidor fell, the first thing they did was tell us to take our clothes off. When there was a pile of clothes 10 feet high, they said, 'OK, now everybody has five minutes to get dressed.'"

The prisoners were taken first to Bilibid, an old Spanish prison in Manila, then to Cabanatuan Camp No. 1 for a month or so. The next stop for Kamendat was Palawan, an island on the Sulu Sea in the southern Philippines.

Palawan is one of the most remote places on Earth. "It's also one of the most beautiful," Kamendat said.

After building a military airstrip, most of the prisoners were shipped back to Bilibid Prison. It was a brief stay.

The Hell Ship
"After a day or two, they lined up 500 Americans and put us on what we called a Hell ship," he said. "We were packed like sardines in the holds of the ship. There was no room to move. You used the bathroom where you sat."

It was July 23, 1943. The Hell ship Clyde Maru arrived in Moji, Japan on August 9th. 1943. The men were transported by train from Moji station to camp Fukuoka 17 at Omuta, Kyushu, arriving on 10 Aug 1943.

In hindsight, a voyage to Japan aboard a Hell ship was preferable to Palawan. On December 14, 1944 the Japanese went forward with a "kill all" order and massacred the remaining 150 American prisoners rather than let them be rescued as Allied forces retook the island later that month. Eleven Americans escaped to tell the tragedy of the Palawan Massacre.

Survivor of Palawan Massacre
click to order
As one survivor recalled, a group of Americans who escaped the initial effort to burn them alive was trapped at the base of a cliff. He saw them run up to the Japanese soldiers and ask to be shot in the head. The soldiers laughed and instead shot or bayoneted them in the stomach. When the men cried out for another bullet to end their misery, the Japanese continued to make merry of it all and left them there to suffer. Twelve men were killed in this fashion.

LUCKY KAMENDAT BECAME #348, a slave laborer at Miike Coal Mine near Omuta, located across a bay from Nagasaki on Kyushu Island in southern Japan. He was among the first POWs at Mitsui's POW camp.

The mine had been abandoned years earlier by Mitsui Mining Co., but pillars of coal remained to support the roof. To remove those pillars was to challenge death. It was the job given to POWs.

On July 5, 2015, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee voted to allow the mine to be a World Heritage site celebrating Japan's industrial development. It remains to be seen if there will be mention of the nearly 2,000 Allied POWs who were slave laborers at the mine.

"We worked with 90-pound jackhammers. The jackhammers weighed more than I did," Kamendat said. "We'd drill holes and pack them with dynamite, then go around the corner and wait for the blast. We'd shovel coal and go on to the next pillar."

It's what he did 12 hours a day, seven days a week, month after dreary month.

"We got a box of rice to eat every day," Kamendat said, using his hands to describe a box about the size of a paperback.

THE PRISON CAMP, known as Fukuoka No. 17, at one point held 1,859 prisoners, nearly half of them Americans but also large numbers of Australian, British and Dutch captives.

Of those, 138 men died, mostly from disease — pneumonia, colitis, scurvy, beriberi, tuberculosis, malaria — aggravated by malnutrition and exhaustion.

Others were murdered. One unfortunate Marine, James Pavlokos, was locked up and starved as punishment for stealing food. It took him 62 days to die.

"I have so many little stories," Kamendat told me, gazing out the window.

Cruelty was the common thread.

At the mine, soldiers guarded the prisoners outside, but civilians ran things inside. As many POWs at the Miike Mine remember, Mitsui's civilian workers were as cruel as the military guards.  One of Mitsui's superintendents, Kamendat recalled, "was exceptionally cruel. He liked having his sport with us. One day he told me to go into a hole and dig out the coal. I knew if I did, I was dead.

"He said, 'If you don't do it, I'll kill you.' I didn't do it, and he didn't kill me."

Kamendat shrugged. He did not smile.

"If you didn't look right, they'd kick you, knock you down. Or they might kill you for no reason at all. They had a thing for redheads; they didn't like redheads at all. I never found out why, but redheads didn't have a chance."

Another of his little stories: "One morning a sergeant woke up with a hangover and decided to take it out on a few of us. He broke my nose, then my collarbone.

"Here's a funny thing. The Japanese never hit you with their hands. They'd hit you with whatever was handy, but never with their hands."

ILLNESS WAS a fact of life. Kamendat contracted malaria, scurvy, pellagra and intestinal worms. Worst of all was beriberi, caused by a lack of vitamin B1.

"Man cannot live on rice alone," he observed.

The "wet" form of beriberi caused his legs to swell to elephantine enormity. He would have lost his legs except for a physician and fellow prisoner, Capt. Thomas Hewlett. Equipped with a razor and scissors, he operated on Kamendat's legs, draining off the fluid.

"It felt so good, I almost passed out," Kamendat said.

Hewlett later published an account of the ordeal at Fukuoka No. 17. It is full of macabre and angry anecdotes, such as: "One prisoner was executed for attempting to learn to read Japanese. He was utilized as the target for a bayonet drill by the guard detail. His body when examined showed over 75 stab wounds."

The doctor, writing in 1978, also lamented the Department of Veterans Affairs' long reluctance to recognize psychological wounds.

"The philosophy of the prisoner of war is a strange one, individually developed to make survival possible in the most hostile environment," Hewlett observed. "He first learned to laugh at the tragedies that comprised the everyday life. He completely obliterated the pangs of hunger. The starving man would willingly trade his meager ration for a few cigarettes."

KAMENDAT STILL WEARS a scar from a head wound suffered when a slab fell from the mine roof.

He was lucky. The rock also struck Sgt. Hez Sallee, of Harrodsburg, Kentucky. "It cut him in half," Kamendat said.

For all his suffering, the young private from Port Huron never lost his will to live.

"One of the fellows told me, 'You've got the right stock in you. You're going to make it.' And I told him, 'Well, my Mama wants to see me, not you.' I always knew I'd survive."

For many years, he spoke at local schools, carrying a message of perseverance: "I tell them, 'Nothing's so bad you can't overcome it.'"

ON AUGUST 9, 1945, the second American atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki. In a heartbeat, 40,000 lives were lost. Coupled with the bomb at Hiroshima, which killed as many as 80,000 people in the initial blast, it broke the Japanese will to continue the war.

Across the bay, 35 miles from Nagasaki, August 9 was just another day of digging coal.

"We were in the mine when they dropped the bomb," Kamendat said. "We were down four levels, which is deep. I didn't feel anything, didn't hear anything, which isn't surprising. It's noisy in a mine."

What does surprise Kamendat is that so many people know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and so few know of Nanking, the Chinese city where as many as 300,000 civilians were massacred by the Japanese with horrific efficiency: babies bayoneted, pregnant women gutted, soldiers wielding machetes until they could no longer raise their arms.

He is unsure why most people know the Nazis killed 6 million Jews, but almost no one in the United States realizes the Japanese killed as many as 20 million Chinese civilians.

"People will tell you it was wrong to drop the atomic bomb," he said, "and when you talk to them, you find out they've never even heard of the Rape of Nanking."

He shook his head and again gazed out the window.

WITH THE WAR at an end, the POWs had one thought: getting home.

"Rather than wait for someone to come and free us, we took it upon ourselves," Kamendat said.

He and a few other POWs found their way to an airfield where a B-29 Superfortress sat on the runway.

"The pilot was a good guy," Kamendat recalled. "He said, 'Where do you fellows want to go?'

"We said, 'Well, where are you going?'

"He said, 'Manila.'

"We said, 'Let's go.'"

In Manila, they were put aboard a Coast Guard ship for the voyage to San Francisco where Kamendat — 60 pounds soaking wet — was hospitalized for malnutrition and a heart disorder, likely caused by beriberi.

ON HIS RETURN to Port Huron, he took a job at Mueller Brass, where he would retire after a long career.

Despite lingering heart-related problems, he stayed trim and fit, bearing himself in the way of old soldiers, erect and vigilant.

This man who gave so much of himself — and who lost so much — holds no grudge against the Japanese people.

"Have I forgiven them?" he said, repeating the question. "Sure. People today in Japan don't know any more about it than the young people here do."

Not least of all, he has forgiven himself.

"After the war, we were ashamed of our situation, and we were quiet about it. I still remember feeling embarrassed about being a prisoner of war," he said. "I'm not ashamed any more. I'm not angry either."

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Annals of Mitsui's Miike Mine: Karel Aster

Karel Aster
For nearly four years, Karel Aster was forced into slave labor. He was a prisoner of war in a series of Japanese POW camps on the Philippines and Japan. His last six months were in a Mitsui-owned coal mine in Omuta, Japan. Without mention of Aster's ordeal, this mine became a UNESCO World Heritage site on July 5, 2015.

Aster suffered countless beatings, starvation and illness, and witnessed hundreds of killings. All because he volunteered to fight for the freedom of his homeland. He knew he had to fight somewhere against fascism, and if not in Europe, it was the Philippines.

Aster, 95, is the last survivor of 14 Czech nationals who volunteered for the U.S. Army in the Philippines when Japan invaded the Philippines Islands in December 1941* He was presented with an award from the Central European nation for his work to benefit society, for the promotion of friendship among nations and for the promotion of the Czech Republic around the world, documents from the Czech Republic say. In short, it was for bravery and valor.

“The conditions were so terrible it is hard for me to describe them. We no longer behaved as human beings and the only thing that helped us survive was one’s instinct for self-preservation. ” said Florida resident Karel Aster.

The Czech ambassador to the U.S., Petr Gandalovic, presented him with the Gratias Agit award on April 23, 2015 in Captiva, Florida.

Aster at 20
The Czech government held an award presentation last year in Prague where it "rolled out the red carpet for three days," said Michael Murray, whose wife Jenny is Aster's granddaughter. Aster was unable to make the trip, so Gandalovic vowed to travel to Captiva, Florida to hand-deliver the award, Murray said.

But, frankly, Aster said he doesn't know what makes him special.

"I'm surprised there's all this fuss after 70 years," he said. "It's an honor, but I don't know why he chose to come here and honor me with his visit."

Aster with the Ambassador
Like millions of people who came back from World War II, Aster grappled with memories of his departed friends and struggled with reoccurring nightmares of the horrors he experienced.

And like thousands of other POWs in Imperial Japan's POW camps, he was pushed into backbreaking labor and forced into some of the most inhumane conditions people can imagine.

However, Aster is very different in his own way.

He was not a trained soldier, nor was he persecuted for faith or ideals. He was just a 21-year-old in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Aster was sent to the Philippines in 1941 to establish local retail stores and a shoe factory on behalf of the European-based Bata Shoe Company. Meanwhile, the Axis powers continued to gain strength as the war grew. Yet, Aster had faith in the company's leadership and was confident the war wouldn't affect him, he said.

But on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and invaded the Philippines the following day. As Aster explained to his parents in a letter, four years latter while recuperating in the United States: "The Japanese were now our enemies, as much as the Germans, and we fully understood that if we wanted to regain our liberty for our fatherland, we would have to do whatever we could to contribute to their defeat."

Within weeks, Aster was one of 14 Czech* nationals who volunteered as civilian employees of the U.S. Department of War.

But while Aster has no regrets about his decision to volunteer, he said he's fortunate that he didn't know what was ahead of him.

"If I knew in advance what was waiting for me, I would've committed suicide," Aster said stone-faced. "Death would've been a wonderful escape."

Dodging bullets
Aster's first duty as a volunteer was to patrol the roads on the Bataan Peninsula and salvage as many vehicles or parts as possible.

But even as a volunteer in the Philippines, Aster said he managed to walk away from scary situations and avoid certain death multiple times.

Whether it was a 7-foot python sliding across his legs while he slept, a bad case of dysentery that hospitalized him for weeks, or bombs destroying buildings that he had just left, Aster had his fair share of close calls.

The most dangerous bullet that he dodged, though, came when he managed to escape from the Bataan Death March, where about 75,000 Filipino and American troops on Bataan were forced to make a grueling 65-mile march to Camp O'Donnell.

After U.S. forces surrendered to the Japanese on the Bataan Peninsula on April 9, 1942, everyone was ordered to head south to Marviles begin the march.

But when Aster and his friend Joseph Varak traveled south along the coastline, they happened upon a man and his disabled boat.

Varak quickly repaired the boat, and the man led them through the mine-laden waters to escape the Japanese to Corregidor, an island fortress about five miles off the coast.

More than 60 years later, Aster met Varak's daughter, Hanna Witherspoon, and one of the first things he said to her was, "Your father saved my life."

Aster believes had Varak not been able to repair the boat, he would have died during the march, like so many others.

"It's an awesome thing," said Witherspoon, who now lives in Tennessee, of her meeting Aster and what he said to her. "But it's also a sad thing because my dad didn't make it. I never saw him and he never saw me.

"I was so thankful that there was someone who knew my father and could tell me about him."

Varak died January 1945 on the Hell ship Enoura Maru from American bombing enroute to a prison camp in Japan.

Hokusen Maru
Hokusen Maru Hell ship
On October 1, 1944, without warning, Aster and thousands of other prisoners were loaded onto ships to go to Japan.

Along with fellow Czechs Leo Hermann and Otto Hirsh, he was put on the Hokusen Maru  (aka Benjo Maru or Haro Maru).

One by one, hundreds of prisoners climbed down the narrow hatch and into the cargo hold of the ship to begin their trip to Japan. Aster calls it his "decent into hell."

More than 700 prisoners were crammed into the cargo hold with little room to move – more closely resembling a giant pile of twisted bodies.

During the daytime, a single ray of light managed to pierce the darkness through a hole from above. Otherwise, it was pitch black.

Guards lowered two buckets from the hole: one filled with boiled rice and the other for human waste. Aster said the rice bucket never had enough to go around, and the bucket for waste was never big enough to service everyone.

And while everyone was starving, nothing compared to suffering from thirst, Aster said. With a tongue of sandpaper and lips of small, cracked twigs, many prisoners resorted to drinking their own urine or the blood of the dead.

Aster said he watched men go crazy.

Prisoners would fight for position or comfort, sometimes to the death, and those who lost were thrown into the pile of dead bodies, which grew by the day.

"The conditions were so terrible it is hard for me to describe them," he wrote in the letter to his parents. "We no longer behaved as human beings and the only thing that helped us survive was one's instinct for self-preservation. It shows the human can endure more than most animals."

Aster gains his freedom
After a stop in Hong Kong, the ship arrived in Formosa in early November. The Japanese, realizing that none of the survivors were healthy enough to continue the trip to Japan, imprisoned the men for two months on Formosa at Takao. But, in early February 1945, Aster and others were herded back onto another Hell ship, the Melbourne Maru (possibly  the Enoshima Maru) and transported to Japan. He arrived at the port of Moji like thousands of other POWs.

He and his two fellow Czechs were assigned to Fukuoka #17, Omuta in Kyushu, Japan. One of Japan's oldest and largest coal mines, it was and remains owned by Mitsui. It was closed in 1997. On July 5, 2015, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site "as providing a valuable picture not only of the outward appearance but also of the inner workings of an early industrial system critical to the development of modern Japan."

Aster, the shoe salesman, became a slave coal miner for Mitsui at their Miike Mine. Barely 30 miles from Nagasaki, he and many of the POWs held at camp, saw the red atomic cloud rise over the city on August 9, 1945.

Leo Hermann died not long after they arrived in the Camp. Otto Hirsh and Aster survived. At his release from Fukuoka #17, the 6-foot tall Aster weighed 90 pounds, had lost his teeth, and was blind in his left eye. Malnutrition, disease, beatings, and slave labor all took their toll. Harsh memories, lost comrades, and nightmares haunted him for decades.

After the war, Aster emigrated to Chicago, became an American citizen, and continued his career in the shoe industry. He retired to Florida in the 1990s.

NB: The above essay borrows heavily from and corrects this News-Press article.

In memoriam
At Camp O’Donnell is a memorial plaque to the seven Czech War Volunteers who died on in captivity as POWs of Imperial Japan. The Camp was an American military facility that the Japanese turned into a concentration camp. Nearly 30,000 Filipino and American soldiers died from sickness, brutal treatment, deprivation and hardships of war between 1942 and 1945. It is now the Capas National Shrine.

Memorial to Czech Heroes at Camp O'Donnell
One Czech died in Camp O´Donnell, five others perished in 1945 on Hell ships bound for Japan, and one succumbed to illnesses and malnutrition shortly before the end of the war in Japan at Mitsui's Miike Mine POW Camp Fukuoka #17.

Most of these men worked for the Bata Shoe Company. Others were businessmen, diplomats, and refugees from occupied Czechoslovakia.

The following is a list of Czech defenders of Bataan. It is a work in progress. We will be refining it as we our research expands.

US Medal of
ASTER Karel (sometimes as Astor, Karl or Charles) - Bata Shoe Company. Upon the surrender of Bataan, escaped by boat to Corregidor to continue with the USAFFE. Later forced onto the Japanese Victory March through Manila, he was imprisoned in Cabanatuan POW Camp and Las Pinas but on October 1, 1944 moved to Hokusen Maru Hell Ship at Manila. Transported to Japan via Hong Kong and Formosa, he was sent to Mitsui's Miike Mine serviced by POW Fukuoka Camp #17 near Nagasaki. Awarded the Philippine Medal of Victory and Philippine Defense Medal as well as on 25 April 2015 the Czech Gratias Agit Award.

BŽOCH Jan (engineer John or Jan V. Bzoch) - Businessman, Trade Official at the Czechoslovak Consulate in Manila and representative of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute. Survived the infamous Bataan Death March. Imprisoned at Cabanatuan Camp 3. On December 13, 1944 he was put aboard the Oryoku Maru Hell ship to Japan. He survived the American bombing of the ship near Subic Bay, but was killed in the bombing of the Enoura Maru on January 9, 1945 in Takao, Formosa. Received US Medal of Freedom in 1945 and Philippine Defense Medal and Medal of Liberation in 2004.

DANČÁK Karel - Bata Shoe Company. Upon the surrender of Bataan, he escaped by boat to Corregidor to continue the fight with the American. Forced onto the Japanese Victory March through Manila with those surrendered on Corregidor. On February 4, 1945, he was rescued at Bilibid Prison, Manila by American Forces. Received the US Medal of Freedom in 1945 and Philippine Defense Medal and Medal of Liberation in 2004;

Dr. FUCHS Pavel (Paul Fuchs) - Survived Bataan Death March but died shortly after in Camp O'Donnell on 25 May 1942 alongside thousands of other Filipino and American soldiers. Received US Army Medal of Freedom in 1945 and Philippine Defense Medal and Medal of Liberation in 2004.

HERMANN Leo - Upon the surrender of Bataan, escaped by boat to Corregidor to continue with the USAFFE. Later forced into the Japanese Victory March through Manila. Imprisoned in Las Pinas Camp, On October 1, 1944 moved to Hokusen Maru Hell ship as #202, arriving in Formosa in early November 1944. Transported to Japan in January 1945, he died April 2, 1945 of beri-beri in Fukuoka Camp #17 near Nagasaki, Japan, now a World Heritage site. Received US Medal of Freedom in 1945 and Philippine Defense Medal and Medal of Liberation in 2004.

HERMAN Bedřich (Fred P. Hermann) - Bata Shoe Company. Survived Bataan Death March and was liberated at Bilibid Prison in Manila. Bedřich then emigrated to the United States where he died in an accident. Received the US Medal of Freedom in 1945.

HIRSCH Otto - Upon the surrender of Bataan, escaped by boat to Corregidor to continue with the USAFFE. Later forced into the Japanese Victory March through Manila. Imprisoned in Las Pinas prison. On 10/1/1944 transported on the Hell ship Hokusen Maru as #203 to Japan to be a slave laborer at Mitsui's coal mine Fukuoka Camp #17 near Nagasaki. He survived and moved to California. He died October 4, 1987. Received the US Medal of Freedom in 1945.

HRDINA Jaroslav - Director of Bata Shoe in Manila. Upon the surrender of Bataan, escaped by boat to Corregidor to continue with the USAFFE. Later forced into the Japanese Victory March through Manila. Imprisoned in Cabanatuan Camp 3. On December 13, 1944 moved to Oryoku Maru Hell ship. Survived its bombing by American forces, but killed during the bombing of the  Enoura Maru Hell ship January 9, 1945. Received Philippine Defense Medal and Medal of Liberation in 2004.

LENK Hans - a Jewish refugee from Dachau Concentration camp with his brother Fred. Survived Bataan Death March. Rescued at Bilibid Prison, Manila by American Forces on February 2, 1945 with a serious case of tuberculosis, his immigration to the US had to be resolved by a specific Act of Congress.

LENK Fred - a Jewish refugee from Dachau Concentration camp. Survived Bataan Death March. Imprisoned in Cabanatuan POW Camp. On December 13, 1944 transported to Oryoku Maru in Manila for shipment to Japan. Died during the American bombing of this Hell ship as it left the harbor. Received the US Medal of Freedom in 1945 and Philippine Defense Medal and Medal of Liberation in 2004.

MORÁVEK Arnošt (Ernest Moravek) - businessman and Czech community leader in Manila. Upon the surrender of Bataan, escaped by boat to Corregidor to continue with the USAFFE. Later forced onto the Japanese Victory March through Manila. Imprisoned in Bilibid prison, Received the US Medal of Freedom in 1945. Returned to Czechoslovakia.

SCHMELKES Norbert - deputy Consul of Czechoslovakia in Manila, businessman, after almost dying from malaria fled from Bataan Death March to Manila where he joined the resistance. He acquired a contraband shortwave radio, printed and distributed flyers. Wanted by the Japanese, he escaped to Mindanao in 1944 where he worked with the American guerrilla fighters and even though a foreigner, became US Lt. Col. After the war received US citizenship and became National Vice Commander of the American Legion. He is mentioned at length in the book Code Name: High Pockets about wartime resistance activities in Manila.

click to order
VAŘÁK Josef - Bata Shoe technician. Skillful technician helped a group of Czechs to flee the Japanese after the US surrender on Bataan. After repairing a boat engine he transported them to Corregidor Island to continue with the US Army there. Imprisoned in Cabanatuan prison from where he was transported on December 1, 1945 to Oryoku Maru Hell ship. Survived its bombing by American forces, but died during the bombing of the Enoura Maru en route to Taiwan on January 9, 1945.  Received Philippine Defense Medal and Medal of Liberation.

VOLNÝ Antonín - (Anthony G., or Tony Volny or Volney) - Czech diplomat, Fluent speaker of Japanese who had worked nine years at the Czechoslovak Embassy in Tokyo. Worked for the Bata Shoe Co. in Manila before Japan's invasion. Helped US intelligence during the battle for Bataan in Mariaveles. Captured and survived the Bataan Death March. Imprisoned in Cabanatuan POW Camp from where he was transported on December 13, 1944 to the Oryoku Maru Hell ship. Survived its bombing by American forces. Known to actively help the US prisoners and was shot by a Japanese soldier while seeking permission for the other prisoners to evacuate the ship. Died during the bombing of the Enoura Maru en route to Taiwan on January 9, 1945 on his 41st birthday.

GERBEC Ludvík, CEO of the Manila branch of Bata Shoe Co, should also be honored even though as a hemophiliac he was not able to volunteer. Gerbec was imprisoned by the Japanese for financing the resistance in Manila. Imprisoned in Fort Santiago prison, which was used for torture and punishment and then to Bilibid Prison where POWs were sent to die. He barely survived. He died January 2, 1960 in the United States and is buried in Abingdon, Maryland.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

UNESCO and Japan’s Act of Forgetting

Front gate Fukuoka #17 Mitsui Omuta POW Camp
Designation of Japan’s Meiji-era sites overlooks some important history.

By Mindy Kotler
The Diplomat, July 3, 2015

This is Karel Aster’s year. In April, the Czech Republic granted the 95-year-old Florida resident the nation’s highest honor, the Gratias Agit, for his valor and bravery during World War II. Aster had volunteered to fight with the Americans in 1941 to defend the Philippines against the Japanese invasion. He survived the battle, the Bataan Death March*, a hell ship to Japan, and years as a slave laborer at a Mitsui coal mine at Omuta, Kyushu Island.

Also at the Mitsui site were American Lester Tenney and Australian Tom Uren. Tenney, another survivor of the Bataan Death March, persuaded the Japanese government in 2009 to apologize to the American POWs of Japan. Uren, who died last January, was a leading Labor Party politician who secured supplementary payment to Australia’s 900 surviving prisoners from World War II and the Korean War.

Account of being a Scottish POW
at Mitsui's Miike Mine Omuta
click to order
This coming weekend, UNESCO will designate the Mitsui Miike coal mine at Omuta as a World Heritage site of Japan’s early modernization. The Japanese nomination, however, makes no mention of the history of any WWII POWs or of the thousands of Asian slave laborers at this site.

UNESCO is expected to approve 23 similar Japanese-nominated sites. Absent will be any accounting of the dark histories associated with these mines, foundries, and shipyards. Silence about the full history of these would-be global landmarks undermines UNESCO’s international goals and the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Currently there are 1,007 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List. They are to serve as “instruments of international understanding and international cooperation.” The World Heritage accolade brings prestige and international attention to unique cultural accomplishments.

World Heritage sites often become tourist attractions and many nations view the designation as a path to reviving fading regions and cities. That is one motive behind Japan’s nomination of its sites. But the selective telling of their history is part of the Abe administration’s broader policy of restoring Japanese pride in their past.
Under the Samurai Sword
by CM Graham, best account
of Miike Mine slave labor
click to order

The regions of Japan’s UNESCO nominations are in search of tourist dollars as they are among the hardest hit by the country’s economic downturn. Tourism is a growth industry in Japan with visitors from China nearly doubling and Korea not far behind. Many of the nominated sites are also located in the home districts of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, and Agriculture Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.

The family companies of Aso and Hayashi, The Aso Group and Ube Industries respectively, used Allied POW slave labor at company sites included among the nominations. Of the eight industrial areas nominated, five held 26 POW camps with nearly 13,000 Allied POWs providing slave labor to Japan’s industrial giants, including Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Aso Group, Ube Industries, Tokai Carbon, Nippon Coke & Engineering, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, Furukawa Company Group, and Denka. The POWs came from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, New Zealand, Norway, Jamaica, Portugal, South Africa, Malaya, Arabia, and Czechoslovakia.

In addition, the nominated ports at Kitakyushu, then called Moji, and Nagasaki, were the entry points for nearly 35,000 Allied POWs, of which approximately 11,000 were American. Over 7,000 American and Allied POWs died traveling to Japan aboard the aptly called “hell ships,” and 3,500 more perished in Japan, 25 percent within the first 30 days of arrival.

Slave labor in Japan did not begin with World War II. Forced and conscripted labor was a critical part of the mining and manufacturing industries in nineteenth-century Meiji Japan. From late Meiji (1868-1912) onward, Japan used “industrial prisons” to supply labor to factories and mills at private companies. Up until the 1930s, the majority of the miners were convicts with the rest being peasants made landless by Meiji land reforms and “outcastes.” One-third were women. Cheap Chinese and Korean labor became important in Japan’s mines and factories, and on the docks.

Lester Tenney's account of
Mitsui's Miike Mine
click to order
Tokyo’s World Heritage nominations fail to address the full historical significance of these sites. Japan’s industrialization included Japanese and foreigners, nobles and outcasts, POW slaves and conscripted Koreans, as well as women and children. Without taking these into account, the story Japan wants to tell fails to meet UNESCO criteria of “universal value and meaning.”

Japan and UNESCO should look to the perhaps surprisingly positive experience of other World Heritage sites that do acknowledge their darker histories. The Liverpool-Maritime Merchant City site is a striking case in point. The Liverpool port served a key role in the triangular transatlantic slave trade of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Liverpool has acknowledged its substantial role in a deplorable (and what would today be a criminal) business. Liverpool opened in 2007 the International Slavery Museum on the dock and, in 2006, a Centre for the Study of International Slavery at the University of Liverpool. Identical memorials to the victims of slavery stand on the docks of Liverpool, Richmond, Virginia, and Cotonou, Benin, linking this shared memory among them. These resources have drawn scholars and others and have in fact bolstered Liverpool’s reputation has a place where history – both good and bad – can be studied and understood.

An Australian's account of
slave labor at Mitsui's
Miike coal mine
Of the 21 nations represented on today’s UNESCO World Heritage committee, nationals from six were World War II POWs held on mainland Japan. These are: India, Malaysia, Jamaica, Finland, Poland, and Portugal. A seventh, South Korea, had hundreds of thousands of its men and women conscripted to work in near slavery conditions.

The U.S. does not have a vote in UNESCO. But Washington can speak to its Japanese ally to remind them of the debt they owe American veterans for defending their freedom.

On the morning of August 9, 1945, all the POWs in Omuta saw the red cloud rise from Nagasaki across the bay. Although a very modern weapon ended their ordeal at the Miike mine, they had experienced labor in Japan that had changed little since Meiji times. They would not want such forced labor to be repeated and certainly none would want it forgotten.

As it stands, Japan’s nomination of Meiji industrial sites is an act of forgetting. It omits the full history of Japan’s industrialization. For UNESCO to accept this is a disservice to its charter and to the memory of the thousands that slaved for Imperial Japan.

*Correction: Mr. Aster avoided the Bataan Death March by escaping to Corregidor. He was forced to participate in a "Victory March" of POWs six miles down Manila's Dewey Boulevard to Bilibid Prison. Where the Corregidor POWs stayed until they were packed on freight trains for the 90-mile trip to Cabanatuan Prison Camp. Mr. Aster was a POW in the Philippines until October 1944 and did not arrive in Japan until March 1945. Thus, he was less than six months at the Miike Coal mine, unlike Dr. Tenney who was there nearly three years. Czech government biographies, from which this article drew, are incorrect.

Grammatical corrections made July 7, 2015.

US Congressmen ask UNESCO to honor the American POWs


July 1, 2015

Prof. Dr. Maria Böhmer Auswartiges Amt
KurstraBe 36
11013 Berlin

Dear Frau Stastministerin:

We urge that UNESCO work with the Government of Japan to amend its application to nominate the “Sites of Japan’s Meij i Industrial Revolution: Kyushu-Yamaguchi and Related Areas” for the UNESCO World Heritage List.

We do not object to Japan highlighting its modern history, but we are very concerned that the nomination is missing the history of Allied prisoners of war (POW5) held captive by Imperial Japan during the Second World War. The story of these sites is incomplete without an official recognition of Imperial Japan’s use of POW slave labor. Japan’s nomination features eight industrial areas. Five of these areas housed a total of 26 POW camps, which provided slave labor to Japan’s industrial giants including Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Aso Group, Ube Industries, Tokai Carbon, Nippon Coke & Engineering, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, Furukawa Company Group and Denka.

The Japanese application for World Heritage status focuses only on the history of these mining and steel industries, but completely omits the history of the POWs. Japan’s nomination does not mention the over 13,000 POW slave laborers who worked at or near the nominated sites. The POWs included 4,385 Dutch, 3,860 British, 3,023 Americans, 1,207 Australians, 358 Canadians, 133 Indians, 22 Chinese, nine Portuguese, five New Zealanders, four Jamaicans, six Norwegians, two Czechs, two South African, two Arabs and two Malays. POWs from India, Malaysia Jamaica, Finland, Poland, and Portugal all of which sit on the UNESCO World Heritage committee—were held captive on mainland Japan. Another committee member, South Korea, saw hundreds of thousands of its men and women conscripted to work in near-slavery conditions.

The lack of any reference to the Allied POWs’ role in the history of these sites would appear to contradict not only UNESCO’s mandate of ensuring that World Heritage sites have “Outstanding Universal Value” but also the UN’ s Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

We welcome the efforts of our Japanese friends to share their history with the world, but even a close alliance cannot negate historical facts. Imperial Japan’s use of Allied POW slave labor is an essential feature of the history of the nominated sites’ industrial heritage.

We therefore urge UNESCO to work with the Government of Japan to amend its application to tell the full history of Japan’s industrialization by including its history of POW slave labor. This would not only address the concerns of our constituents, but would also ensure that the nomination in question conveys the totality of the story, helping it transcend national boundaries, and highlighting its universal importance.

Thank you for your prompt attention to the concerns of our brave veterans and their elected representatives. We look forward to the World Heritage Centre’s response.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

UNESCO and Japan's campaign to forget

Mitsui Miike Mine Omuta POW camp barracks
nominated World Heritage site
During the July 4th weekend, UNESCO World Heritage Committee members will meet in Bonn, Germany to approve the Government of Japan's nomination of 23 sites for designation as bearing "universal value" as world industrial heritage sites.

As the letter below shows, most of these sites have long histories of slave and forced labor combined with dangerous working conditions, labor strife, and seminal accidents. For the American POWs of Japan, a shocking number of the sites are at or are near POW camps that used Allied POW slave labor.

Unfortunately, the US government no longer has a seat at UNESCO. But possibly, Washington can speak to its Japanese ally to remind them of the debt they owe to American veterans for defending their freedom. 

American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society

June 22, 2015*

Mr. Kishore Rao
World Heritage Centre
7, place de fontenoy
75352 Paris

Dear Mr. Rao:

I am writing in regard to the Government of Japan’s nomination of the “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Kyushu-Yamaguchi and Related Areas” for the UNESCO World Heritage List. As president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society (ADBC-MS), which represents surviving POWs of Japan, their families, descendants, and researchers, I have serious reservations about whether the application meets the UNESCO criteria of “universal value” and meaning.

The goal of the ADBC-MS is to preserve and to teach the history of the American POWs held captive by Imperial Japan during World War II. Japan’s use of Allied POW slave labor in its corporate metal and mineral mines is an essential part of POW history, and a central and long-term feature of the history of the nominated sites. From late Meiji onward, Japan used forced convict labor in its extractive industries and created “industrial prisons” to supply workers to factories and mills at private companies.

The Japanese World Heritage nomination focuses on the history of Japan’s mining and steel industries, but completely omits the history of POW labor. As such, it violates UNESCO’s mandate of ensuring that World Heritage sites have “Outstanding Universal Value.” The story of the thousands of foreign workers who maintained these Japanese industries remains untold.

We do not object to Japan highlighting its modern history, but the story is incomplete without a full and complete history of the use of slave labor. Forced and conscripted labor was as much a convention in Meiji Japan as it was during World War II.

Japan’s nomination features eight industrial “areas.” Five of these held 26 POW camps to provide slave labor to Japan’s industrial giants, such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Aso Group, Ube Industries, Tokai Carbon, Nippon Coke & Engineering, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, Furukawa Company Group, and Denka.

The nomination does not mention the OVER 13,000 POW slave laborers who worked at or near the nominated sites. The POWs included 4,385 Dutch, 3357 British, 3,023 Americans, 1,207 Australians, 358 Canadians, 133 Indians, 5 New Zealanders, 22 Chinese, 9 Portuguese, 6 Norwegians, 2 Czechs, 2 South African, 2 Arabians, and 2 Malays.

Over all, at war’s end, there were close to 200 sites for POW internment throughout all of Japan—163 facilities to incarcerate POWs and about 33 facilities for civilian internees. There were 27 on the island of Kyushu where the majority of Japan’s nominated sites are located.

In addition, the key ports at Kitakyushu, then called Moji, and Nagasaki —both nominated sites—were the entry points for nearly 35,000 Allied POWs, of which approximately 11,000 were American. Over 7,000 American and Allied POWs perished traveling to Japan aboard the aptly called “Hell ships”, and 3,500 more perished in Japan, 25 percent within the first 30 days of arrival.

As shown at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Liverpool-Maritime Merchant City, there is a benefit to including a country’s darker history. The telling of the port’s role in the triangular transatlantic slave trade has helped the city attract a wider group of tourists while stimulating learning and international connections. For example, since establishment of its World Heritage status in 2004, Liverpool opened in 2007 the International Slavery Museum on the dock and in 2006 a Centre for the Study of International Slavery (CSIS) at the University of Liverpool. Identical memorials to the victims of slavery stand on the docks of Liverpool, Richmond, Virginia, and Cotonou, Benin, linking the shared memory among them.

In 2011, a Repatriation Memorial was unveiled at Liverpool’s Pier Head as a remembrance for the former POWs and civilian internees who returned from captivity in the Far East. My members would welcome appropriate memorials at the POW arrival ports of Moji and Nagasaki in Japan as well as Kaohsiung, Taiwan and Busan, South Korea.

Nationals from six of the 21 nations represented on today’s UNESCO World Heritage committee were POWs held on mainland Japan. These nations are: India, Malaysia, Jamaica, Finland, Poland, and Portugal. There were also thousands of Koreans who were used as conscripted labor during the war.

It is our hope that Japan can be persuaded to amend its application to tell the full history of their industrialization by including its history of POW labor. We believe this request is reasonable. It enriches the nomination by conveying the totality of the story, helping it transcend national boundaries, and highlighting its universal importance.

After all, the many visitors to the nominated World Heritage sites who will arrive at Fukuoka International Airport will land on runways originally leveled and constructed by British, American, and Dutch Prisoners of War.

Thank you for your time and attention. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.

Sincerely yours,

Ms. Jan Thompson
Daughter of PhM2c Robert E. Thompson USN, Bilibid, Fukuoka 3B, & Mukden, POW# 2011

*This letter was amended June 29, 2015 to reflect a better calculation of the POW camps strengths and numbers at liberation, August 1945. With existing records, it is difficult to be exact.