Saturday, July, 26, 2014 Yomiuri Newspaper
Prisoners of War in Siberia--Testimony of a Nurse
- “Help me!” the Screaming Voice of a Nurse in the Unit -
A 99-year old former combat nurse from the Japan Red Cross who was held in Siberia taken from what was then known as Manchuria where she was assigned to work, is going to talk about her experiences in the documentary movie broadcast in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka late next month. It has been known that women who were nurses and telephone operators were among the prisoners of war taken into Siberia. However, the historical facts regarding their experiences are much less than those of soldiers. Her testimony is going to be an important one that makes us look into the forgotten and unreported part of history. (by Hirohiko Ide, Editor in Osaka main branch)
Mrs. Katsue Kogame (maiden name: Rinsho), a resident of Hiroshima city, was assigned to the First Army Hospital in Jiamusi in the North Eastern part of Manchuria from Hiroshima branch of the Japan Red Cross in July, 1943. Since April of 1945, she became in charge of the educational unit to train graduates of women’s high school to become nurses.
At dawn of August 9th, she was informed of the sudden Soviet attack. As she heard continuous roaring airplanes, she began to transfer patients in the hospital, and then began to escape.
■Potassium Cyanide was Handed
When the captain, her boss called, she was handed enough of potassium cyanide for the hundred some members. It was to commit suicide in the worst case situation. She cut her hair short and wore the army uniform, and hid the potassium cyanide in her chest pocket.
The Soviet Army immediately surrounded her unit and demanded to turn over women, but the headquarter pleaded to the Soviet officer and avoided this. However, at the end of August, while the women’s unit was escaping in the middle of the night, a Soviet four-wheel-drive car approached them and one female member was taken into the car. Before that incident happened, Mrs. Kogame, who had the experience of working with the army, was walking at the back of the group, encouraging the young member who was telling her she could no longer walk any more. When she called everyone’s name, that particular young woman was missing. About fifty years later, it was reported that her corpse was found in the grass. “I still remember her voice, saying, ‘Honcho! Help me !’ ” Every time she thinks about her voice, tears do not stop.
- Life in the Prison Camp in the Extremely Cold Weather -
■Fell Down due to the Hard Labor
In October, 1945, after staying at the interment camp for commissioned officers in Khabarovsk, the women’s unit was transferred to the internment camp deep inside the mountains. There, she deeply realized the fact they were prisoners—They saw Soviet soldiers with automatic rifles watching them while they repeated collecting firewood and digging potatoes on the farm day after day. From their hands, frozen and numb, there was bleeding. They boiled kaoliang with water, and drank what was floating on the surface of the soup. At night, they lay blankets on the floor, and slept next to each other. Sometimes, Soviet soldiers tricked them by saying “domoy“ (Going home) in order to steal watches and fountain pens from the Japanese women as they happily went out with their belongings in hand.
After a while, she was racked with fever and developed diarrhea. She lost consciousness, and was sent to a hospital along with Japanese soldiers who looked liked walking skeletons.
■Warm Care by a Russian Head Nurse
She woke up from unconsciousness when she was given a bath by a Russian head nurse. She spoon fed her with nutrient to bring her strength back. “Without such a compassionate nursing, she may have lost her life,” she said.
At the hospital, when the Russian nurses discovered from the record at the prisoner’s camp, that Ms. Kogame was a nurse, another head nurse came to ask if she could handle intravenous injection. Then it was arranged for her to help a internal medicine department where approximately eighty Japanese soldiers were hospitalized. Those soldiers told her, “At the camp, many truck full of corpses of our comrades were taken out. They were stacked like logs. We are the survivors.” She worked earnestly to take care of them.
When she talked to a head nurse about the painful experience of what happened to a member of her nursing unit who was abducted, she said, “ I had to flee myself because of the fire caused by the war. I lost both of my parents and brothers in the fire. Look, you still have a home to go back to, and you are surely be able to go home one day!” Her words taught her the true meaning of sacrifice of the war—the suffering did not only belong to the people who lost, but also to the people who won the war.
In June 1947, the head nurse told her the direction to go home. When she went to Nakhodka, she was able to get together with other members of her nursing unit, who had been taken to different hospitals around the area to work as nurses. After she repatriated to the port of Maizuru, she went back home to Hiroshima, where there was a terrible spectacle after the atomic bomb. It was then when her experience of repatriation for a year and ten months ended.
After she went back, she raised two daughters while she worked as a head nurse at the Atomic Bomb Hospital of the Hiroshima Red Cross and also as a nurse at her husband’s dental clinic.
Commentary of This Article
-- Facing the Danger of Withering, Not Enough Materials and Records --
“The expression of ‘prisoners of war’ often gives impression that they are soldiers and men. Therefore the experiences of the women who were taken to Siberia tended to have been forgotten.” Said Prof. Takeshi Tomita at Seikei University.
The late Rokuro Saito, who was a president of the Conference of the Reparation for the former prisoners of war in Siberia pointed out in his book, “ The total of more than two hundred women were detained and thirty of them were imprisoned for “crimes”. ” However, the total number of Japanese women who were taken to Siberia is not precisely known—according to some other source, it is estimated that up to a thousand were detained. Those who were taken as hostages were nurses, telephone operators, typists, who were working in the army or in special agencies. Interpreters were tried in court as if they were spies and were convicted as war criminals. Among them, there were some women who died during their repatriation and had to stay in Russia, and never made it back to Japan.
Prof. Tomita thinks how they were handled was up to each prisoner’s camp they were taken to because
there was no detailed provisions for female hostages according to the Geneva Convention until 1947. Their memorandum and records are very scarce, and even at the National Museum of Exhibition Commemorating for Peace, which introduces the Siberian Detainment, only exhibits the army uniform that a nurse who accompanied the army during the war was given by a Soviet nurse and the few photos taken at the time they came back home.
Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare does not sort out the gender for the 700,000 registration cards of prisoners of war that were transferred from Russia. Unfortunately, the investigation of the experiences of females who were sent to Siberia is in danger of becoming obscure unless it is documented as an official entry by our government in our historical archives.
*About Siberian Detainment
After Japan surrendered in WWII, the Soviet army captured about 575,000 (approximation by Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare) Japanese soldiers, workers for the army and civilians from the old Manchuria and Sakhalin to the prison camps in the territory of Soviet Union and Mongolia in order to force various labor such as railway construction and wood cutting. The detainment continued as long as eleven years, and 55,000 (approximation also by Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare) died in Siberia.
translation by Haruko Sakakibara
Saturday, July, 26, 2014 Yomiuri Newspaper