by Haddie Beckham
Unit 731, led by the infamous Japanese scientist, Ishii Shiro, was a covert laboratory tasked with preparing Japan for chemical and biological war against belligerents. Masscarading as the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department” in Harbin, China, Unit 731 was in fact a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army, conducting barbaric human experimentation on prisoners. Prisoners of war (mainly Chinese, but also Mongolian and Russian) and local alleged criminals were routinely subjected to inhumane testing for biological weapons. Within the prison walls, no less than 3,000 people were murdered annually within the period from 1937–1945 for the sake of developing weapons not only meant for war but also for the destruction of populations. The numbers of humans killed were unknown since they were known as logs or marutas, and were incinerated right after they were experimented on. Additionally, Unit 731 tested biological weapons in the surrounding areas of Manchurian, China, killing an estimated half a million people.
Right before the end of the war in the Pacific, following the Soviet Union’s declaration of war against Japan, Unit 731 was liquidized between August 9 –13, 1945. Ordered to leave no traces, everything was destroyed and all prisoners were killed (either by poisoning or shooting) and their bodies were burned.
This poem, in the style of a haiku, was written by one of the former workers at Unit 731 more than twenty years after the end of the war in 1969 after the evacuation of the unit from a place near Pingfan.
The seventeen stanzas given here are written in the Japanese national form of a haiku. In this case, however, the author wrote 17 different haikus and combined them into an epic. The poem was composed by a former worker at Unit 731 more than twenty years after the liquidation of the unit in 1945 and evacuation of workers from Ping-Fan, China.
The stanzas capture the inhumane experiments and torture that prisoners experienced at Unit 731, the liquidation of the unit, and the aftermath.
The first and second stanzas speak of inhuman frostbite experiments being carried out by the Yoshimura group. After these experiments, the arms of the prisoners would often fall off.
The fourth stanza tells of prisoners who were handcuffed and shackled, often under the scorching sun, delivered to Unit 731.
This stanza also mentions inscriptions made with blood on the walls of the cells of the special prison: “Down with imperialism!” On August 9, 1945, right before the ordered destruction of the Unit, this phrase was discovered on the walls.
Of the seventeen stanzas, the fifth deserves special attention, which refers to an escape from prison. The words "let’s run" or “jailbreak” give reason to believe that we are talking about an event that occurred in a special prison unit.
Unit 731 was a special, strictly guarded prison, from where no one came out alive. The “logs” inside it were brutally exterminated by an average of three people every two days. This does not mean, however, that they did not fight for their freedom.
The biggest manifestation of this struggle was the “logs” riot that broke out in early June 1945. None of the prisoners managed to escape, but they fought valiantly for their lives.
The seventh stanza tells about the burning of corpses of "logs", brutally murdered during the liquidation of the Unit. News of the Soviet Union’s declaration of war against Japan on August 9, 1945, and entrance into Manchuria, forced the Japanese Army to destroy all evidence and remains of testing facilities.
The eighth stanza speaks of the countless experiments carried out at a special training ground near Anda Station to infect logs with plague using fleas.
The ninth stanza refers to the “Devil is in the appearance of the doctor” - the head of the detachment, Lieutenant General of the Medical Service Shiro Ishii. Ishi was the creator, head, and most important figure of Unit 731
The tenth stanza tells of the work that began on August 9, 1945 on the evacuation of the detachment and the destruction of detachment structures.
Stanzas eleventh to sixteenth depict the evacuation from Pingfang, crossing the border of China, Korea and toward Japan. This is a story about the flight to Japan of members of Detachment 731, who learned about the end of the war and trembling with fear for their lives at the thought of the crimes they had committed.
The last stanza - about the pagoda monument at the Tama Tokyo cemetery - is very significant.
With the end of the war, the Unit was disbanded, but its members did not lose sight of each other. They organized “societies of fighting friends”, once a year they organize an all-Japanese gathering and maintain “old ties”. In 1958, a pagoda monument was erected at the Tama Cemetery in honor of the souls of the dead members of Detachment 731. Only a few Sanskrit characters are carved on black granite and there are no more inscriptions. It was secretly erected in a cemetery, and the reason for its existence is hidden from people.
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