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The Most Notorious Japanese Prisoner Camp in History

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Ravi loves writing within the cusp of relationships, history, and the bizarre, where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

Unit 731 was a prisoner camp used by the Japanese where they performed some of the most horrifying crimes against humanity in history.

Unit 731 was a prisoner camp used by the Japanese where they performed some of the most horrifying crimes against humanity in history.

The Josef Mengele of the East

If there is one person who can represent the complete evilness that happened at Auschwitz, it is surely Josef Mengele.

It was no wonder that he was called the ‘angel of death’ as the immaculately dressed doctor conducted some of the most brutal medical experiments ever possible on any human being. His successful evasion from capture and the fact that he was never found has only added to the paranoia of fear and brutality surrounding the man.

But today, we are not going to talk about him. Rather we are going to talk about his little-known even eviller counterpart who operated from the Pacific area of World War II. He was a mild-mannered bespectacled doctor who referred to his victims as ‘logs’ because after torturing them to death with his horrifying medical tests, he had their bodies simply burned to ashes. For him, keeping the daily count of deaths was just an answer to a simple question.

“How many logs fell today?”

His name was Dr. Shiro Ishii and the magnitude of human suffering for which he was responsible remains unimaginable and incomprehensible to this day. He was the director of a biological warfare research and testing program of the Imperial Japanese Army that existed from 1937 to 1945 during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II.

These programs were conducted in a prisoner camp named Unit 731, disguised under the official name of the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department that was supposed to be researching contagious diseases and water supplies.

From 1942 to 1945 Ishii unleashed the worst human experiments ever perpetrated on human beings and for this ‘exceptional service’ he was also praised by the Japanese government and decorated with the coveted Order of the Golden Kite.

All atrocities conducted in the name of medical research had the ‘noble’ objective of defeating Japan’s enemies and Dr. Shiro Ishii exceeded all boundaries of humanity, compassion, and civilization ensuring its success.

After the war, He, and his associates of unit 731 were captured by the US. But there was no punishment as Dr. Ishii offered to share details of the experiments conducted at Unit 731 in exchange for immunity from all the war crimes he and his associates committed.

Some of the worst criminals went on to occupy key medical and other posts in public and private sectors and all that remains today of the buildings is a museum that echoes the piteous cries of countless prisoners tortured within its ghostly buildings.

Dr. Shiro Ishii was called the Josef Mengele of the east.

Dr. Shiro Ishii was called the Josef Mengele of the east.

The Story of Dr Shiro Ishii and Unit 731

Early in his career, Ishii was obsessed with chemical and biological warfare methodologies and their effects on humans. He had his dream come true when he was asked to head unit 731, a covert biological warfare division of the Imperial Japanese army. He set up the operations in Pingfang, an area outside the city of Harbin, China.

Initially, Ishii used Chinese prisoners for his activities but soon expanded to include men, women, pregnant women, the elderly, children, and even infants from the local populace. He had the military arrest thousands of victims and delivered them to Unit 731.

There was neither mercy nor discrimination shown by Ishii and his associates as they systematically conducted horrifying human experiments on multiple areas. Some of the areas of study were the following.

There was neither mercy nor discrimination shown by Ishii and his associates as they systematically conducted horrifying human experiments on multiple areas.

There was neither mercy nor discrimination shown by Ishii and his associates as they systematically conducted horrifying human experiments on multiple areas.

Hypothermia

This was the study of the effects of frostbite on the prisoners. As part of the study, the prisoner’s limbs will be submerged for hours in tanks filled with water and ice. Once the limbs are frozen, different methods like exposure to fire, rapid rewarming, dousing the limbs in hot water, etc. would be tried to thaw the limbs back to normal. Most of the prisoners ended up severely amputated in this gruesome process.

Vivisection

This was another gruesome human experimentation in which humans were dissected without anesthesia, to study the operations of living systems. Thousands of prisoners were then infected deliberately with infectious diseases by cutting their organs and the effects were studied carefully for further research. Finally, when a prisoner’s body was all used up, he/she will be shot dead.

Study of Weapons

The study of different weapons and their effects on human beings was of particular interest to the Japanese army. For this purpose, prisoners were assembled on a firing range and shot at by multiple Japanese weapons, such as the 8mm pistol, bolt-action sniper rifles, machine guns, and grenades. Wound patterns, blood clottings, and penetration depths were then analyzed to perfect the lethality of the weapons further.

Sexual Experiments

The Japanese army was specifically interested in the study of syphilis since it was gradually getting rampant within the army. Prisoners would be injected with the disease and then withheld treatment so that the effects of the disease can be seen.

The same prisoners would also be ordered to rape female prisoners continuously and impregnate them so that the effects on the child fetuses can be studied. Sometimes the mother would be vivisected in order to see how the fetus was developing.

The totality of Unit 731’s mission was to develop horrific weapons of mass destruction for use against the American and Soviet forces. but if Unit 731’s researchers ever published these results, the papers did not ‘seem’ to survive the war.

Dr Shiro Ishii was never punished for his crimes. Instead, he signed a deal with the Allies to share his research in exchange for immunity.

Dr Shiro Ishii was never punished for his crimes. Instead, he signed a deal with the Allies to share his research in exchange for immunity.

Japan Finally Reveals the Names of Notorious Unit 731

In August 1945, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki had both been bombed, the Soviet Army had invaded Manchuria and defeated the Japanese Army. Emperor Hirohito read his infamous surrender declaration over the radio after which Unit 731 was officially disbanded. Immediately after the surrender, the Japanese demolished Unit 731 and erased all shreds of evidence of the gruesome atrocities done there.

Dr. Shiro Ishii was never punished for his crimes. Instead, he signed a deal with the Allies to share his research in exchange for immunity. He finally succumbed to throat cancer in 1960 at the age of 67. Many of Dr. Ishii’s staff went on to occupy high-profile and influential careers in politics, medicine, and business as the horrific activities of “Unit 731” was completely forgotten for the next 40 years.

It was not until 1984 that Japan publicly acknowledged the existence of Unit 731. In 2016, the Japanese government disclosed some information about the unit but blacked out many parts ‘to protect the families of the war criminals. Later in 2017, under public pressure, the Japanese government disclosed the names of 3,607 members including doctors, technicians, nurses, and medics of Unit 731, more than 75 years after the war.

As Katsuo Nishiyama, professor emeritus of the Shiga University of Medical Science and head of the group that requested the disclosure rightly says.

“It is the first time that almost all of the real names and addresses of the unit’s members have been unveiled as a definitive and official document. Unit 731 has a collective responsibility to account for its war crimes, and that those crimes must be atoned for as a way of showing that those crimes will never be repeated.”

Sources

© 2021 Ravi Rajan

Comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 21, 2021:

Thanks Bill for your comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 21, 2021:

Thanks Umesh

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 21, 2021:

The darker side of man is without light and very hard for most of us to acknowledge. Let's hope this man is an anomaly and not the norm.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 21, 2021:

Very well researched article. Well done.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 21, 2021:

Thanks, Liz for your comments. And the irony is that he escaped scot-free.

Liz Westwood from UK on September 21, 2021:

It is truly shocking what horrors human beings can inflict on others. I had not heard of Ishii before. This is a well-written and chilling article.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 21, 2021:

Thanks, Misbah for your comments.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Rebels. on September 21, 2021:

This was as usual a very interesting read. It's so sad to learn that Dr. Ishii unleashed a barrage of the most shockingly cruel experimental studies ever conducted on human beings. Thanks for sharing.

Blessings always!

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