|Mitsui Miike Mine Omuta POW camp barracks
nominated World Heritage site
American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society
June 22, 2015*
Mr. Kishore Rao
World Heritage Centre
7, place de fontenoy
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.