The Men Who Came In from the Cold: Japanese Captives in Siberia and the Making of Postwar Japan
[Recorded 11th October 2017] On 15 August 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s defeat in the Second World War to millions of his subjects. “Enduring the unendurable”, the nation was now to start on the road of peace and rebuilding. Yet for over 600,000 Japanese soldiers, the war was not to end on that August day. Defeated and captured by the Soviet Red Army in northeast China, these former soldiers were put in freight trains and taken to Soviet forced labour camps. For years they worked in various industries alongside Soviet prisoners and foreign POWs, longing for the day of return to their motherland. They underwent a well-planned propaganda education program that called them to stage a communist revolution upon return to Japan. Perhaps because of this education, they were greeted with suspicion and for many years struggled to take back their rightful place as Japanese citizens. In this talk, I trace the circuitous journey of the ‘Siberian internees’ from Manchuria to the Soviet camps, from camp to camp within the USSR, and finally back to the US-occupied Japan. Based on a large number of archives in Japanese, Russian, and English, I view the internees’ experiences as a transnational phenomenon, an event in global history, and not as a mere chapter in Japan’s recent past as it has been known for decades of postwar history. This seminar took place at Oxford Brookes University on 11 October 2017.