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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Japanese POW Camp

Let's take a look at a one of the Japanese POW (prisoner-of-war) camps situated at or near Yokohama, Japan during WWII.

The first place we'll glance at (and this is a glance - not an in-depth examination) is the Ōfuna camp, also known as the 横須賀海軍警備隊植木分遣隊 and pronounced as the Yokosuka Kaigun Keibitai Ueki Bunkentai.

Now... technically this was not called a 'camp', but rather the Navy Yokosuka Guard Unit Ueki Detachment (per above). The image above was taken long after the camp was liberated, falling into a bit of disuse.

Located outside of Yokohama in Kamakura, this camp was special in that it was run by the Imperial Japanese Navy rather than the Army.

At Ōfuna, the camp was a temporary holding facility for foreign officers and high-valued enlisted men, such as pilots or submarine personnel. After capture and transfer to Ōfuna, the POWs were interrogated and then held at the facility for an average of eight days (though in some instances the poor devils had to stay there for months) before being transferred elsewhere.

Opened on April 26, 1942, almost right from the get-go the Ōfuna camp was in violation of the Geneva Convention… as it was never OFFICIALLY reported as a POW camp, and they did not allow the Red Cross access to those interned.

In Japan's defense, they claimed it was only a temporary holding facility and NOT a POW camp, but I'm betting those POWs who were there would beg to differ.

After the war, the War Crimes tribunal did not agree, however, with Japan's claims, and sentenced Japanese camp Commander Sashizo Yokura (surname first) to 25 years of hard labor.

Ōfuna was NOT a fun place to be - especially since it flew under the radar of the Red Cross and Geneva Convention… but reports indicate that the facility—formerly an elementary school that was refurbished - consisted of three one-story, unpainted wood buildings with tar paper roofs that were connected to each other, with a long corridor in the middle and thirty rooms on each side, cells, basically, each about 6 x 9 feet (1.83m x 2.74m).

Each room provided a single electric light, a bunk, bamboo mat and a door with a small window.

Considering the number of bunks, there was only two toilets and one shower…

Nicknamed 'Torture Farm' by the POWs, Ōfuna's camp counselors intimidated and tortured POWs to get information.

Apparently the place was such a secret establishment that not even the locals knew what was going on there…

What sort of torture went on?

Well… we all know that code of only captured individuals only divulging one's name, rank and serial number? That just got you a beating with a wooden club. The same with lying or refusing to answer, or 'disrespecting' an interrogator.

POWs said the Japanese there were sadistic - they enjoyed beating the prisoners… of course they were... I'm just saying that if you are involved in torturing people for information, you probably ARE sadistic - especially chosen to extract information for people who don't want to give it up.

Ōfuna is believed to have seen 1,000 POWs pass its gates during the time it was open, with six dying while in captivity.

Did they die while being interrogated or because of the 500 calorie-a-day diet consisting of a little rice and soup and then being forced to do daily exercises?

When Ōfuna was liberated on August 21, 1945, it was still holding 126 American and nine British POWs.

So… after the war, rather than tear down the facility because it was a horrible reminder of its actions during WWII, the Ōfuna buildings were refurbished and used as a kindergarten until it was finally demolished in 1969, 25 years after the last POW walked out its oppressive shadow.

Now… shock and awe aside, I understand WHY the facility was used as a school after the war… it was a facility, and it was a standing facility… if it could be re-used, Japan - with the urging of the U.S. who essentially ran the country when the war concluded - did indeed reuse it.

I doubt any of the kids who went to the school knew what the building's purpose was during the early 1940s…

If you are looking for the area the camp was situated on, basically it was opposite someplace called the Ryuho temple, which still stands. The area is now a large housing development.

The image above purports to show prisoners from Ōfuna being bowed to by their captors after being liberated. I still say this is a propaganda photo...

Anyhow... if you all paid attention, there was a huge film called Unbroken (and a book) based on American Lt. Louis Zamperini whose bomber crashed into the Pacific in May of 1943 only to be captured by the Japanese and interned at Ōfuna through 1944.

Next up... a POW camp and baseball.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

2 comments:

  1. If anybody is interested here are my notes from my 2012 visit to OFUNA POW camp location. (NB My father was a POW in Japan and some of his fellow POW's had been in OFUNA)

    We take a taxi to the location of the camp. I am photographing a tree and a car park area that was at the edge of the camp (As in Zentsuji the tree is just about all the remains.) Whilst this is happening an elderly lady who is 83 years old stops and starts talking to Yoshiko.

    She is Mrs. Sekino who as a girl saw POW’s tied at the hands with rope and hitched together by connecting rope being marched from the rail station. Her mother told her not to look, but she was curious.

    She has more information which Taeko and Yoshiko will be following up on.

    We then go into a little housing estate that is built on what was the site of the POW camp.
    At the end of a lane we enter a yard. The house here is on what was a corner of the camp. In it lives Mrs. Fuko Tsubakihara with son and her daughter, Mrs. Tadokoro.

    Mrs. Tadokoro whose husband has now died used to talk to the POW’s. At this point Mrs. Seiko Fukauda turned up. Her and her brother (Yoshikazu Kosaka) could see into part of the POW compound from their 2nd story bedroom window. They would see POW’s doing gymnastic exercises (anyone with access to “Finger’s” book “We Stole To Live” should read about what that entailed!).

    She would also see POW’s sharing a single cigarette between a group. As well they were invited to a picnic day at the Elementary School. POW’s were invited and Louis Zamperini won his race against a prison guard that day. She says that she was happy for the POW’s because they seemed so sad and also because they won some sweet potatoes.

    (The POW’s probably never actually received there winnings as the normal practice was for a senior officer to take such “goodies” and sell them for himself on the black market. I have evidence of this happening in Zentsuji and it was probably a very common practice, especially in a camp like Ofuna.)

    The ladies also tell me that they themselves were down to eating wild flowers at the end of the war. As well after the surrender the Japanese Navy gave young girls poison to kill themselves. Mrs. Fukuda was one of these young girls, her mother took it and disposed of it.

    Her brother did drawings of many events centred on this POW camp after the war. It obsessed and troubled him and this was his means of expressing it. These drawings were now produced and were given to the POW Research Group. I took a picture of two of them.

    They saw POW’s after the war waving to US B-29 bombers that were dropping much needed supplies:

    It comes time to take some pictures and to move on I tell Mrs. Tsubakihara that I hope that she lives another 99 years. She cracked up laughing she thought it was so funny.

    We now went across the road to the local Temple. Yoshiko and Taeko were a little bit worried because the old priest, who was familiar with the history of the Ofuna POW camp and sympathetic to its memory, had passed away. A new younger priest was there and they were not sure about him. Well they need not have worried.

    We were shown a memorial in the graveyard to the dead POW’s. It was in a nice location under a tree.

    We were then given what is considered a great privilege. Not many people get invited out the back. In a special room was another memorial to the POW’s and the Japanese war dead. In the boxes were collections of soil from the places where major battles occurred and many soldiers died. It seems a very Shinto type thing this connection with the ancestors and the continuing cycle of life of which death is just a step along the way.

    At this time he agreed that the concrete base of the guard’s house was important and that housing in a special place on the temple grounds was a very appropriate thing to do. He understood the historical significance and was very supportive.

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    Replies
    1. KLM... thank you very much for sharing your father's notes on his visit back to the camp.
      I would think it very brave to go back to such a site.
      Do you know WHY he visited it?
      I hear of so many people harboring hate for the enemy, never talking about what happened... and never wanting to set foot on "enemy soil" again.
      Your dad's notes are, to me, very touching...
      Again... thank-you for sharing... it adds so much to the story... more than what I wrote.
      Be happy.

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