The Yomiuri Shimbun
Determine fate of detainees at former Soviet camps outside Siberia
At long last, there are important clues in regard to finding out the whole truth about a tragedy that has so far been shrouded in darkness.
Materials concerning Japanese nationals who were detained at camps and other facilities of the former Soviet Union after the end of World War II have recently been discovered one after another.
It has been disclosed that the Russian national archives have a number of documents, such as 55 photos of Japanese interned in Dalian in northern China and lists of deceased Japanese detainees in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, the southern region of Karafuto (now called Sakhalin) and in Dalian.
In the wake of reporting by The Yomiuri Shimbun on the lists of deceased internees, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has made public lists of a total of 10,723 Japanese internees, although some cases may have been listed more than once.
Among the lists released by the ministry are the names of 2,130 people who do not fall into the category of “detainees in Siberia” — those who were interned in the former Soviet Union or Mongolia.
Actual conditions of Japanese detainees in areas other than Siberia are virtually unknown, including how many died. Measures to support bereaved families must be provided promptly, including fact-finding investigations and providing information to aging families of the deceased.
In the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, Tokyo and Moscow agreed to mutually abandon the right to claim compensation for wartime damage.
Returnees from Siberia and bereaved families of deceased detainees in Siberia have filed lawsuits for compensation against the Japanese government, demanding payment of wages that the plaintiffs say should have been paid for forced labor the detainees engaged in, as well as damages for their internment.
The 1988 legislation of a special fund law for the provision of compensation for those who were interned and the 2010 enactment of a temporary statute requiring the government to conduct investigations were all designed to provide detainees in Siberia with relief measures.
Russia’s ‘confidential’ info a key
Regarding those who died while interned in areas other than Siberia, however, the government fell short of making public lists of detainees’ names and failed to carry out investigations, even though the government obtained the lists in and after 2000, as priority was given to those who were detained in Siberia. The fact that health and welfare minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki apologized for this, pledging to take steps to rectify the situation, can be considered a positive step forward.
Many tasks must be undertaken if the government attempts to provide bereaved families of those who were interned in areas other than Siberia with new assistance measures and to put into effect investigations relevant to them. This is because the current laws have limited the scope of beneficiaries to those who were interned in the former Soviet Union and Mongolia.
Studies should be made in connection with this on ways to beef up arrangements to conduct investigations. One idea would be to let Japanese experts on the matter to take part in investigation.
To uncover what actually happened, it is imperative to dig out information Russia still has not offered Japan.
To cite an example, Russia has yet to make public information about the fate of the Japanese interned in a number of detention camps near Pyongyang, where several thousands of the detainees are said to have perished. Even though Russia has provisioned the information to the Japanese government regarding the situation in the northern region of the Korean Peninsula, or information about “repatriation camps” in two areas of Hungnam and Wonsan.
Because the records relating to deaths by execution and abuses of the Japanese detainees have been designated as “confidential,” Russia’s security institutions in charge of the matter is said to be negative about lifting the ban on disclosing this information.
Whether Russia discloses the information in question may depend on a high political judgment in Russia, perhaps by President Vladimir Putin.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been probing the possibility of having face-to-face talks with Putin this autumn. If the meeting materializes, Abe should seek a cooperation in resolving the problem of the detention of Japanese by the former Soviet Union.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 31, 2015)