Detainees or Prisoners?

On August 9th, 1945, the Soviet army suddenly invaded into the borders of Manchuria, North Korea, Kuril Islands and Sakhalin. Their invasion was against their Neutrality Treaty of 1941. Since 600,000 strong Kwantung army was not the same special unit at its best, the resistance around the borders were easily broken, which allowed the soviet army units with modernized equipment to keep coming down south wave after wave.

However, the order our army units received from our army headquarters were truly strange. Usually, we would have expected the order such as” Fight back and wipe out the Soviet army,” but on the contrary, what we received was, “Keep resisting the Soviet army as you withdraw.

This order really puzzled us, and at the same time, made us think Japan would surrender soon as we heard on the short wave radio by the US Army.
I heard there were some Japanese army units that actually fought off the enemies. I heard a story that an officer from the commanding unit went to inform headquarters of their success on the battle field, but he was shot to death mistaken to be a spy from the enemy. The chaos like that was inevitable because the majority of the soldiers could not believe that Japan would surrender. I heard the honorable Tsuneyoshi Takeda was asked to become a staff member of the Kwantung army and fly to the battle fields to uplift the solders.

We were constantly told “it is no good to live and become captives.” Also, nobody could imagine raising a white flag and becoming a prisoner in the middle of the battle. Therefore, we were all deeply concerned if we would actually become captives or not.

During that period, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th. On the same day, the Soviets began their attack on Manchuria and other areas forfeiting the peace treaty with Japan. Totally shocked by such incidents, the prime minister Kantaro Suzuki decided to accept the Potsdam declaration with the condition to maintain the structure of Japan as a country in the meeting with the emperor. The following day, such content was delivered to the allied forces by telegram. Then on the 14th, the emperor himself asked for the meeting to formerly accept the declaration. Then his imperial script was read soon after that.

I heard that there was an official notice that came from the main headquarter in the middle of the night on August 12, 1945 to the commanding officer Yamada to stop any action of the war. Another notice also came that any officer or staff for the army who surrendered after the noon on that August 1945 day are not considered as captives.

Later, on the 19th of 1945, Marshall Vasilevsky and Chief of Staff Hikosaburo Hata of the Kwantung army made the treaty for the logistics of disarmament, maintenance of the security maintenance, and the protection of the Japanese who were in the war zone. At that time, Japan insisted that the army and its staff were not captives, but the Russians pointed out they were captives, and they would work on the protection of the Japanese in the war zone, but he was going to indicate it to the Moscow government since he was not in charge of the decision making to help the Japanese to be sent back to Japan or not.

Even after we were taken by the Soviet army, we brought up this subject right in front of the face of the Soviet commanders. They said the cease of war was actually September 3rd. They believed that the war continued until that day even if Japan surrendered unconditionally on August 15th by the command that came from the army head quarter. Therefore, they insisted that the Japanese were war hostages described in the international law.

The Soviets did not accept our assertion, and also brought up this kind of logic. Namely, the permission such as keeping the sword was a special treatment for officers who were recognized as prisoners. If we were only interns, such privileges would disappear. This logic was strange, but it was true each officer was allowed to keep his sword for a while.

At the battle fields, there were many Japanese soldiers who carried their swords which were often valuable ones that their families used from generation to generation. I myself had a special one made by the second generation Kunimune in Kamakura, which my aunt gave me as a farewell present. My father ordered that sword to become suitable for the sword to be used in the war. It was about 24 centi meters long. It was a bit short but a beautiful old sword. There were some officers who were proudly showing their valuable swords as “Seki no Magoroku” or “Bizenosafune. “

However, all of them were eventually taken by the Soviet army. That was when we were just about to be loaded onto the cargo train of the Siberian railway in the beginning of December, one month after we began to live in tents
in Kraskino. It happened after we arrived at Posyet army port from the port of Xingnan. We were all forced to part with our precious swords at that time.

I recall there were about 20,000 or 30,000 higher ranking officers in the Kwantung army. Lower ranking officers also possessed their own swords. That means the Soviet army confiscated so many valuable Japanese swords. In 1991, when President Gorbachev came to Japan and signed on the agreement regarding the formerly interned in Soviet, their possessions left in Soviet were guaranteed to be returned. However, not even one sword came back.

Later, when I had a chance to meet officials of the foreign ministry and internal ministry, I said, “you have our swords. I would like you to return them.” They did

not give any clear answer however, saying “we can not determine where they are any longer.”

Were we captives or not? Even if we wanted to argue that point, the Soviets would never listen to our logic. The only thing I know is that the Soviet army acknowledged such an argument came up from us. Later, when I was transferred to the camp in the Soviet Union, the official’s group I belonged to asked us to sign an agreement as a contract to work in the camp where we were detained. That courtesy may have been the influence of our discussion in regards to the International law.