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Christopher Ershov
Christopher Ershov

Unit 731: Testimony

While Unit 731 researchers arrested by Soviet forces were tried at the December 1949 Khabarovsk war crime trials, those captured by the United States were secretly given immunity in exchange for the data gathered during their human experiments.[6] The United States covered up the human experimentations and handed stipends to the perpetrators.[1] The Americans co-opted the researchers' bioweapons information and experience for use in their own biological warfare program, much like what had been done with Nazi German researchers in Operation Paperclip.[7][8] On 28 August 2002, Tokyo District Court ruled that Japan had committed biological warfare in China and consequently had slaughtered many residents.[9][10]

Unit 731: Testimony

In 1932, Surgeon General Shirō Ishii (石井四郎, Ishii Shirō), chief medical officer of the Imperial Japanese Army and protégé of Army Minister Sadao Araki, was placed in command of the Army Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory (AEPRL). Ishii organized a secret research group, the "Tōgō Unit", for chemical and biological experimentation in Manchuria. Ishii had proposed the creation of a Japanese biological and chemical research unit in 1930, after a two-year study trip abroad, on the grounds that Western powers were developing their own programs.

In addition to the establishment of Unit 731, the decree also called for the creation of an additional biological warfare development unit, called the Kwantung Army Military Horse Epidemic Prevention Workshop (later referred to as Manchuria Unit 100), and a chemical warfare development unit called the Kwantung Army Technical Testing Department (later referred to as Manchuria Unit 516). After the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, sister chemical and biological warfare units were founded in major Chinese cities and were referred to as Epidemic Prevention and Water Supply Units. Detachments included Unit 1855 in Beijing, Unit Ei 1644 in Nanjing, Unit 8604 in Guangzhou, and later Unit 9420 in Singapore. All of these units comprised Ishii's network, which, at its height in 1939, oversaw over 10,000 personnel.[18] Medical doctors and professors from Japan were attracted to join Unit 731 both by the rare opportunity to conduct human experimentation and the Army's strong financial backing.[19]

Unit 731 tested many different chemical agents on prisoners and had a building dedicated to gas experiments. Some of the agents tested were mustard gas, lewisite, cyanic acid gas, white phosphorus, adamsite, and phosgene gas.[55] A former army major and technician gave the following testimony anonymously (at the time of the interview, this man was a professor emeritus at a national university):

Unit members orchestrated forced sex acts between infected and noninfected prisoners to transmit the disease, as the testimony of a prison guard on the subject of devising a method for transmission of syphilis between patients shows:

Infection of venereal disease by injection was abandoned, and the researchers started forcing the prisoners into sexual acts with each other. Four or five unit members, dressed in white laboratory clothing completely covering the body with only eyes and mouth visible, rest covered, handled the tests. A male and female, one infected with syphilis, would be brought together in a cell and forced into sex with each other. It was made clear that anyone resisting would be shot.[67]

While male prisoners were often used in single studies, so that the results of the experimentation on them would not be clouded by other variables, women were sometimes used in bacteriological or physiological experiments, sex experiments, and as the victims of sex crimes. The testimony of a unit member that served as a guard graphically demonstrated this reality:

One of the former researchers I located told me that one day he had a human experiment scheduled, but there was still time to kill. So he and another unit member took the keys to the cells and opened one that housed a Chinese woman. One of the unit members raped her; the other member took the keys and opened another cell. There was a Chinese woman in there who had been used in a frostbite experiment. She had several fingers missing and her bones were black, with gangrene set in. He was about to rape her anyway, then he saw that her sex organ was festering, with pus oozing to the surface. He gave up the idea, left and locked the door, then later went on to his experimental work.[68]

Despite the prison's status as a highly secure building, at least one unsuccessful escape attempt did occur. Corporal Kikuchi Norimitsu testified that he was told by another unit member that a prisoner "had shown violence and had struck the experimenter with a door handle" and then "jumped out of the cell and ran down the corridor, seized the keys and opened the iron doors and some of the cells. Some of the prisoners managed to jump out but these were only the bold ones. These bold ones were shot".[93] Seiichi Morimura in his book The Devil's Feast went into some greater detail regarding this escape attempt. Two Russian male prisoners were in a cell with handcuffs on, one of them lay flat on the floor pretending to be sick. This got the attention of a staff member who saw it as an unusual condition. That staff member decided to enter the cell. The Russian lying on the floor suddenly sprang up and knocked the guard down. The two Russians opened their handcuffs, took the keys, and opened some other cells while yelling. Some prisoners, including Russian and Chinese, were frantically roaming the corridors and kept yelling and shouting. One Russian shouted to the members of Unit 731, demanding to be shot rather than used as an experimental object. This Russian was shot to death.[94] One staff member, who was an eyewitness at this escape attempt, recalled: "spiritually we were all lost in front of the 'marutas' who had no freedom and no weapons. At that time we understood in our hearts that justice was not on our side".[94] Unfortunately for the prisoners of Unit 731, escape was an impossibility. Even if they had managed to escape the quadrangle (itself a heavily fortified building full of staff), they would have had to get over a three-meter-high (9.8 ft) brick wall surrounding the complex, and then across a dry moat filled with electrified wire running around the perimeter of the complex (which can be seen in aerial pictures of the Unit).[95]

There are unit members who were known to be interned at the Fushun War Criminals Management Centre and Taiyuan War Criminals Management Centre after the war, who then went on to be repatriated to Japan and founded the Association of Returnees from China and testified about Unit 731 and the crimes perpetrated there.

In April 2018, the National Archives of Japan disclosed a nearly complete list of 3,607 members of Unit 731 to Katsuo Nishiyama, a professor at Shiga University of Medical Science. Nishiyama reportedly intended to publish the list online to encourage further study into the unit.[96]

Unit 731 had other units underneath it in the chain of command; there were several other units under the auspice of Japan's biological weapons programs. Most or all Units had branch offices, which were also often referred to as "Units". The term Unit 731 can refer to the Harbin complex itself, or it can refer to the organization and its branches, sub-Units and their branches.

With the coming of the Red Army in August 1945, the unit had to abandon their work in haste. Ministries in Tokyo ordered the destruction of all incriminating materials, including those in Pingfang. Potential witnesses, such as the 300 remaining prisoners, were either gassed or fed poison while the 600 Chinese and Manchurian laborers were shot. Ishii ordered every member of the group to disappear and "take the secret to the grave".[104] Potassium cyanide vials were issued for use in case the remaining personnel were captured.

Among the individuals in Japan after its 1945 surrender was Lieutenant Colonel Murray Sanders, who arrived in Yokohama via the American ship Sturgess in September 1945. Sanders was a highly regarded microbiologist and a member of America's military center for biological weapons. Sanders' duty was to investigate Japanese biological warfare activity. At the time of his arrival in Japan, he had no knowledge of what Unit 731 was.[68] Until Sanders finally threatened the Japanese with bringing the Soviets into the picture, little information about biological warfare was being shared with the Americans. The Japanese wanted to avoid prosecution under the Soviet legal system, so, the morning after he made his threat, Sanders received a manuscript describing Japan's involvement in biological warfare.[105] Sanders took this information to General Douglas MacArthur, who was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers and responsible for rebuilding Japan during the Allied occupations. MacArthur struck a deal with Japanese informants:[106] he secretly granted immunity to the physicians of Unit 731, including their leader, in exchange for providing America, but not the other wartime allies, with their research on biological warfare and data from human experimentation.[6] American occupation authorities monitored the activities of former unit members, including reading and censoring their mail.[107] The Americans believed that the research data was valuable and did not want other nations, particularly the Soviet Union, to acquire data on biological weapons.[108]

As above, during the United States occupation of Japan, the members of Unit 731 and the members of other experimental units were allowed to go free. On 6 May 1947, Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, wrote to Washington in order to inform it that "additional data, possibly some statements from Ishii, can probably be obtained by informing Japanese involved that information will be retained in intelligence channels and will not be employed as 'war crimes' evidence".[6] 041b061a72


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