Whhat is Repatriation?
- Collapse of the Japanese Empire and Repatriation
- The Soviet Entry into the War and Attacks in Manchuria
- Background to the Internment of Japanese People in the USSR
- Repatriation and Maizuru
- Repatriation Port: Maizuru
Internment in Siveria
Background to the Internment of Japanese People in the USSR
The USSR interned military personnel and civilians of its enemy nations as a measure of compensation for its loss of manpower due to the war. The government of the USSR interned not only Japanese, but also German and other European military personnel and civilians. Accordingly, the internment of Japanese people holds historical significance similar to that of their counterparts from European countries. During the occupation period, the Japanese government did not have the right to engage in international diplomacy. Moreover, Japan did not have diplomatic relations with the USSR until 1956. This made the repatriation from the USSR even more difficult.
Internment in Siberia
"Domoy Tokyo" ("“We’ll take you back to Tokyo"). This was what many surrendered Japanese soldiers and civilians were told by Soviet soldiers. However, instead of Tokyo, the Japanese were sent to forced labor camps in Siberia and various other regions of the USSR, including Ukraine, Georgia, and Central Asia (Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan). The number of such Japanese internees was estimated at 600,000.
Meals for Internees
The internees were given only a little food and had to make spoons and other tableware by themselves. They shared what sparse meals were provided—a piece of brown bread and thin soup—and due to malnutrition they all became progressively thinner. Due to chronic hunger and the freezing weather, many internees died in the first winter of the internment.
Daily Life in the Labor Camps
In the freezing cold weather, internees were forced to engage in logging, coal mining, the construction of railway tracks, and other hard physical labor. Because of poor nutrition and sanitary situations, internees were infested with fleas and lice, and many suffered from dysentery, cholera, and other infections, leading to at least 55,000 fatalities. On the other hand, some labor camps assigned only light work, and a few internees even fostered friendships with Russian people.
Clothing in Siberia
Since the majority of internees were taken away during the summer, they did not have winter clothing. Some were provided with winter uniforms taken from the Japanese army’s storehouse, while others were provided with winter uniforms for prisoners. Such winter clothing was vital for their survival. Since the overcoats provided by the Kwantung Army had detachable sleeves, some internees exchanged sleeves for food, such as pieces of brown bread.