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Yudin B. G. A Historical and Ethical Examination of the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trial

A trial of Japanese biowarfare scientists took place in Khabarovsk, in the Russian Far East, in December 25-30, 1949. 12 Japanese military were accused in the manufacture and use of bacteriological weapons during World War Two, including:

General Yamada Otsuzo, former Commander-in-Chief of the Kwantung Army; 

Lt-General Kajitsuka Ryuji, former Chief of Medical Administration of the Kwantung Army;

Lt-General Takahashi Takaatsu, former Chief of the Veterinary Service of the Kwantung Army;

Major General Kawashima Kiyoshi, former Chief of a department of bacteriological Unit 731;

Major Karasawa Tomio, former Chief of a section of Unit 731;

Lt-Colonel Nishi Toshihide, former Chief of a department of Unit 731;

Major Onoue Masao, former Chief of a branch of Unit 731;

Major General Sato Shunji, former Chief of Medical Service, 5th Army;

Lt. Hirazakura Zensaku, former researcher of Unit 100;

Senior Sergeant Mitomo Kazuo, former member of Unit 100;

Corporal Kikuchi Norimitsu, former medical orderly of Branch 643 of Unit 731;

Kurushima Yuji, former lab orderly of Branch 162 of Unit 731.

Last months of 1949 were marked by events having some relevance to the Khabarovsk trial. On August 23 Soviet Union successfully carried out its first nuclear weapon test. On October 1 Chinese People Republic was created. Flame of the Cold War which had started in March 1946, burned more and more bright. The Korean War was about to start.

Yet the most influential event in the context had finished about one year ago. The trial in Khabarovsk was preceded by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which had been conducted in Tokyo since May 3, 1946 till November 12, 1948. Tokyo Tribunal was carried out as international one, with participation of prosecutors and judges representing every of 11 allied powers – winners of war against Japan. There were 28 defendants; two of them died in the course of the Tribunal, one more got a nervous breakdown during the Tribunal and was removed.

Some signs of growing contradictions between two superpowers – USSR and USA – were revealed at Tokyo Tribunal. For instance, in his speech at the Khabarovsk trial State Counsel for the Prosecution L. Smirnov noted: “Prosecutor of the Nanking city court had presented to the International Military Tribunal in Tokyo return, in which it had been mentioned specially, that Unit “Tama”[i] – one of the most secret divisions of Japanese Army – systematically had carried out experiments on living humans, inoculating them with poisoned serum. …

The information about atrocities of the Japanese invaders had attracted attention of the International Military Tribunal, which had requested from American prosecutions, representing Kuomintang’s China at the Tokyo trial, to submit more evidence on criminal activities of the “Tama” Unit.

Soon after that Soviet prosecution in the International Military Tribunal transmitted to the American Chief Prosecutor Joseph Keenan written testimony of Kawashima and Karasawa … about carrying out malicious experiments on living humans…

It seemed, however, that some influential people were interested in hindering disclosure of monstrous crimes of Japanese soldiery and documents about activities of the Unit “Tama” and analogous experiments carried out in the Ishii Unit were not presented to the Tribunal.”[ii]

Many authors from different countries, including Russia, agree that in course of the Tribunal Americans, who plaid decisive roles, were not inclined to sue those involved in experiments on humans. Japanese historian of science Tsuneishi Keiichi notes that American military began investigating these activities in September 1945, but investigation was aimed first of all at gathering of scientific data received in Japanese research; nobody of those who had managed to come back to Japan was tried as a war criminal. “In other words, – writes Tsuneishi – they were granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for supplying their research data.”[iii]

Yet at the end of 1946, after getting from the Soviets notice about intention to investigate cases related with human experimentation and biological warfare, Americans started new study of the issues. One of results of these new investigations was Hill and Victor report, dated December 12, 1947. Tsuneishi reproduces conclusion of the report: “Evidence gathered in this investigation… represents data which have been obtained by Japanese scientists at the expenditure of many millions of dollars and years of work. Information had accrued with respect to human susceptibility to those diseases as indicated by specific infectious doses of bacteria. Such information could not be obtained in our own laboratories because of scruples attached to human experimentation.”[iv]


So, after the war with Japan was over Soviets and Americans had engaged in acute competition for getting data from Japanese researchers. Now we are turning to the Soviet side.

Red Army had imprisoned about 600 thousand Japanese military. KGB had made huge job to “filtrate” all these prisoners in search of those who were involved in research on bacteriological warfare. Even those of gendarmes who had managed to dispatch people for experiments were found out.[v] Georgy Permyakov[vi], who was the main interpreter at the Khabarovsk, recalled:

“In 1946 chiper message from Moscow had been received . It was requested to gather materials on bacteriological warfare… And at that time we had “digged” up Unit 731 and ascertained that there were three generals in our prisoners-of-war camp, who headed these activities [Kajitsuka, Kawashima and Takahashi]. They started to give evidences, but not at once.

Altogether we talked with 1000 prisoners. Starting from evidence of the ranks we went to interrogations of superior ranks and after all, by way of confrontations, forced these three generals to give evidence. We came to Harbin to interrogate Chinese. We had gathered huge amount of data and were proud of that. … All these data we were preparing for the Tokyo Tribunal – Eastern “Nuremberg”. However, they wer not used there.

On October 20, 1949 I had been ordered to come to waiting room of Lt-General Dolgikh. When I arrived there were about twenty the best interpreters, almost all of them had arrived from Harbin. We were called to the office; meeting was headed by Colonel Karlin, who was empowered by the Ministry of Interior of the USSR to carry out suit against officers of Japanese Army who had used bacteriological weapon. For the sake his personal safety he was kept in secret. And me as a main interpreter of the trail also was kept in secret.

Japanese were kept in the first Khabarovsk prison… High rank investigators came from Moscow. … Japanese told everything without pressure, interrogations lasted from 9 a.m. till 12 p.m. Investigators, interpreters, prisoners – everybody was tired out.[vii]         

The charges at the trial were based on Article 1 of the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR “On Measures of punishment for the German-fascists villains guilty in murders and tortures of Soviet civilians and imprisoned Red Army military, for spies, traitors to the Fatherland from among the Soviet citizens and their accomplices” from April 19, 1943.

It is necessary to note extreme severity of the Decree.[viii] Article 1 of it stated that previously used measures of coercion (which, by the way, had included death penalty) did not correspond to “the most infamous evil deeds”. In this connection exclusive measure of punishment – hanging, which in some cases was carried out publicly – was introduced. The Decree also put in force such term of punishment as penal servitude from 15 to 20 years. It is interesting to note that despite the fact that since 1943 till 1952 no less than 40 thousands persons, including at least 25209 foreigners, were called to account under the Decree[ix], it was classified.

However, on May 26, 1947, after WWII was over, death penalty was canceled by the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR

So, preliminary investigation had started in the end of October, 1949 and been carried out in exterme haste. According to G. Permyakov (whose evidence on this point coincides with others, abovementioned data), Soviet authorities were disappointed with some momemts of the Tokyo’s International Tribunal. He recalled that in 1946 Soviet prosecutor at the Tribunal S. Golunsky proposed a lot of documents on bacteriological crimes of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria. Yet US prosecutors were against subjoining these materials to the file. Consequetly, after the end of Tokyo’s trial in November 1948, Soviet authorities decided to carry out one more trial.

The question of dates when the trial was carried out deserves special comments. As we can see, it had started more than one year after completion of the Tokyo’s one, in the very end of 1949. To Permyakov’s weighty opinion, it was necessary to end the trial before the New Year:

Moscow forced investigators to hurry. It was known in high circles of the Ministry of Interior that in the next year death penalty would be restored. That is why people from above requested to carry out Khabarovsk bacteriological trial before the end of 1949: at that time uneasy talks between Moscow and Tokyo on the fate of Japanese POW took place. And it is clear that Japan was especially concerned about high officers of Kwantung and Korean Armies.”[x]    

The last evening session of the court on December 30, at which verdict was announced, was finished late at night. That means that from the very beginning of preparation of the trial it was predetermined that defendants would not get severe punishment.

Indeed, onJanuary 12, 1950 death penalty in the Soviet Union was restored. At that day the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR “On use of death penalty for traitors to the Fatherland, spies, shot-firer-saboteurs” was issued. This Decree had permitted, as an exception to the Decree from May 26, 1947, to use death penalty for those who had committed especially dangerous crimes against the State.

The case in Khabarovsk was heard by Military Tribunal of the Primorsky Military District presided by Major General of Justice D. Chertkov. Bill of indictment dated of December 16, 1949 was signed by Military Prosecutor of the Primorsky Military District Colonel of Justice A. Berezovsky. As it was mentioned earlier, State Legal Adviser of the 3rd class L. Smirnov was State Counsel for the Prosecution at the trial. Naturally, every defendant was provided with a Soviet defender, but these defenders played secondary, mainly decorative roles, as it was usual for the Soviet juridical system in general.

The Expert Commission on bacteriological and medical issues took part in the trial. It was headed by Nickolay N. Zhukov-Verezhnikov. Commission included 6 members, experts in epidemiology, immunology, microbiology, parasitology and veterinary.

Nickolay Zhukov-Verezhnikov (1908-1981), microbiolgist and immunologist, was Academician of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR since 1948 and at the time of Khabarovsk trial even Vice-President of the Academy. He proposed methods of prophylaxis of plague and cholera.

It is needed to remind, that in August 1948, only one year before the Khabarovsk trial, well known Session of the All-Union Academy of Agricultaral Science named after Lenin had been hold. At the Session genetics was rejected by Trofim Lysenko and his followers as a “bourgeois pseudo-science”. Zhukov-Verezhnikov actively supported ideas and actions of T. Lysenko. Some rather exotic “scientific” theories were created in years of Lysenko’s domination over Soviet biology. One of them, on transformation of plague pathogen to pseudotuberculosis, was proposed by Zhukov-Verezhnikov.[xi]

Hearings took place in the District House of Officers of Red Army. According to G. Permyakov, to get to the sittings of the court was relativelty easy: it was needed just to buy entrance ticket. However, as journalist Evg. Sholokh writes, audience included only those who had got special order. Yet a lot of those who could not get tickets gathered near the House of Officers of Red Army , where the trial took place, to hear radio translation. 

Indictment of the Khabarovsk trail had consisted of four points:  

- Organization of special units for preparation and carrying out of bacteriological warfare;

- Criminal experiments on living humans;

- Use of bacteriological weapon in war against China;

- Activities in preparation of bacteriological warfare against the USSR.[xii]

Only the second of these points, related with human experimentation, will be discussed in the article.

Charges of “personal participation” were brought against four of defendants (Kawashima, Karasawa, Nishi and Mitomo). Three more persons (Yamada, Kajitsuka and Takahashi) were accused of knowingly permitting the experiments to proceed.

Unit 731 was placed near railway station Pingfan, 20 kilometers from the city of Harbin in northeastern China. Its predesessor was (for the sake od secrecy) named “Board on water supply and prophylaxis of the Kwantung Army”; it was created in 1936 by a secret decree of the Japanese Emperor and headed by Lt-General Ishii Shiro. According to the bill of indictment, to the beginning of 1939 rather big military camp with many laboratories and service building had been constructed. The staff included about 3000 persons.[xiii]

Unit 731 consisted of 8 divisions. Human experimentation was carried out by the division 1, the main mission of which was investigation on and growing of pathogens for bacteriological warfare. In the course of research a lot of experiments on animals and on humans were carried out. For this purpose – to carry out experiments on humans in “laboratory setting” – an inner prison was constructed inside the camp to contain around three to four hundred people. Bacteria capable to infect humans with plague, cholera, gas-gangrene, anthrax, typhoid, paratyphoid and other infections were objects of study.

According to evidence of one of the accused, Kawashima Kiyoshi, who for some time headed the division 1, about 3000 people were killed in the Unit 731 since 1940 till 1945 by means of infection by deadly bacteria; he told also that he had no idea how many prisoners were killed before 1940[xiv]. For the most part experiments were directed toward development of bacteriological weapon to infect humans, but there were also other experiments, for instanse, on enduring deprivation in humans of food and water, frostbite of hands, injection in humans of animal blood etc.

During preliminary investigation Kawashima had testified: “Constant experiments on living humans – Russian and Chinese prisoners, who for this purpose were specially got to the Unit 731 by Japanese gendarmerie in Manchuria – were carried out in order to test specimen of bacteriological warfare as well as to investigate ways of treatment of epidemic diseases in the Unit.

The Unit 731 had special prison to place and keep detainees; in that prison “experimental humans” were kept in stringent conditions and isolation; these humans usually were called as “logs” [maruta in Japan]. Such name of test subjects I myself had heard many times from the commander of the Unit 731 General Ishii.”[xv]

When interrogated at the trial, Kawashima told about “logs” once more.

Question: For what reasons preparation of bacteriological warfare was carried out in Manchuria, not in Japan?

Answer: … Manchuria was very suitable for experiments to study means of bacteriological warfare.

Question: In what, properly, such “suitability” of Manchuria for experimenting had consisted?

Answer: Manchuria was very suitable because there was sufficiently amount of test material.

Question: What does it mean – “test material”? People who had been taken to the Unit for experiments?

Answer: Just so.

Question: What was conventional name used in the Unit for victims of experiments?

Answer: They were called “logs”.

Question: Whether these people were detained in the inner prison under their names?

Answer: No, they had numbers.”[xvi] 

In other case Kawashima was cited in “Materials…” as saying that the name “logs” was used “for the sake of concpiracy”[xvii]. Later we shall come back to this point.

Along with experiments in “laboratory setting” there were also experiments carried out at proving grounds of the Unit 731 and in the battle conditions. Kawashima continued: “In June 1941 I… took part in testing of bombs filled with plague flees at the proving ground of the Unit near Anda railway station. In course of the experiment effect of bacteriological airbombs was test subjects on 10-15 prisoners which were tied to ground stakes. At that case more than ten bombs were dropped.”[xviii]

Another accused, Nishi Toshihide, when interrogated at preliminary investigation, told: “… it was known to me that experiments on compulsory infection of Russian and Chinese humans (including prisoners-of-war from the Unit’s prison) with deadly bacteria took place with aim to test bacteriological substances. …

These experiments carried out throughout the year; after the people compulsory infected with bacteria had died, they were burned in a crematorium specially meant for this purpose.

So, I know that in January-March 1945 experiments on infecting of the Russians and Chinese with typhus were carried out in the prison; at proving ground near Anda in October 1944 experiment was carried out on infection with plague (plague flees) of five Chinese prisoners of war; in winter 1943-44 experiments on frostbite of extremities were carried out in the Unit…

Besides, in January 1945 experiment on contamination of ten Chinese prisoners of war with gas-gangrene was carried out with my participation. Its goal was to ascertain possibilities of contamination people with gas-gangrene under condition of 20°C frost.

This experiment was carried out in such way: 10 Chinese prisoners of war were tied to stakes at distance about 10 or 20 meters from shrapnel bomb, contaminated with gas-gangrene.

To prevent immediate death of the people their heads and backs had been protected with special metal shields and thick quilts, where as legs and buttocks had been kept unprotected. After electric current was switched on the bomb was exploded and the area at which prisoners were placed was filled up with gas-gangrene contaminated shrapnel. As a result all test subjects were wounded in legs or buttocks and through 7 days died in heavy torment.”[xix]

And more on frostbiting experiment. Witness Furuichi, medical orderly, testified: “Experiments on frostbiting of people had carried out every year in the coldest months: in November, December, January and February. Technique of these experiments was such: in the evening, about 11 p.m., test subjects people were turned out at the frost and forced them to put hands in a barrel with cold water. Then they were forced to take out their hands and for a long time stay at the frost with wet hands. Or else people dressed in, but barefooted were turned out and forced to stay at night in the coldest time at the frost. 

After people got frostbitten, they were turned in a room and forced to hold their feet in water about +5°C, then water little by little became warmer. That was made for developing means to treat frostbiting. I am personally did not see further experiments when these people were turn back to a room, yet I did observe, to be on duty, when people turned out at the frost and became frost-bitted. As regards experiments in a room, when people held their hands in water, I heard about them from eye-witnesses.”[xx]

State Counsel for the Prosecution L. Smirnov told during hearings of arguments at the Trial:

“It was proved that inhuman experiments on living humans in the Unit 731 were carried out not just in connection with preparation to bacteriological war. There were also other, no less inhuman and painful experiments, which… were carried out on a wide scale. These experiments were aimed at study of limits of human organism’s endurance in specific conditions, study of some questions of prevention and treatment non-infectious diseases…

To carry out such experiments… Unit 731 was equipped with pressure chamber in which limits of human organism’s endurance toward high altitudes were ascertained. …

Person who had been placed in the pressure chamber died a slow death, in unimaginable torments.”[xxi]         

Indictment prepared for the trial included mention about fates of those prisoners who happened to survive an experiment: “If a prisoner after his/her contamination with letal bacteria had recovered, it did not save him/her from repeated experiments, which lasted till his/her death caused by contamination. Contaminated persons were treated, and different methods of treatment were studied, they were normally fed and after their final recovery they were used for a next experiment, with another kind of bacteria. In any case, no one had left alive this death factory…”[xxii] The same can be found in testimony given by Kawashima at preliminary investigation: “… When prisoner, despite contamination of deadly bacteria, became healthy, it did not save him/her from repeated experiments. These experiments lasted till a person became dead. Infected people were treated by different terapeutic means. They were normally fed and after full recovering were used in the next experiments – they were infected with another species of bacteria. In any case nobody never left this death factory alive.”[xxiii]

Three of the 12 Japanese military were accused in experiments which were conducted in Unit 100 and included mainly research on animal diseases. Unit 100 was placed in Mogaton, ten kilometers south from the city Shenyang, also in northeastern China. Initially it was disguised as Hippoepizootic Board of the Kwantung Army. It was headed by Major General of Veterinary Service Yujiro Wakamatsu. Tasks of Unit 100 had incuded, among other things, possibilities to use bacteria and acute poisons for mass extermination of people. For that purpose experiments were carried out on animals and living humans. 

At the Khabarovsk trial accused Mitomo had testified: “ Experiments on living humans were carried out in August-September 1944. These experiments consisted in giving to the test subjects imperceptably for them soporifics and poisons. There were seven or eight test subjects, Russians and Chineses. Among used in the experiments medicines there were Korean bindweed, heroin and castor oil seeds. These poisons were admixed to food.

For two weeks every test subjects had got such poisoned food five or six times…

All test subjects through two weeks became too weak and it was impossible to use them for further experiments.

Question: And what was done with them in such cases?

Answer: For the sake of conspiracy all these test subjects were killed.

Question: How it was made?

Answer: One Russian test subject by order of reseacher Matzui was killed by means of injecting him one tenth gramme of potassium cyanide.

Question: Who killed him?

Answer: I had injected himpotassium cyanide.

Question: What did you make with corpse of this killed Russian?        

Answer: I had dissected the corpse at the unit’s cattle cemetery.

Question: What did you make with the corpse afterwards?

Answer: I had buried it.

Question: Where a hole had been digged?

Answer: At the cattle cemetery behind the unit’s place.

Question: At the same place where cattle carcasses were buried?

Answer: At the same place, but in another holes (Stir, buzz of indignation in the hall).

Question: Tell us, how you commit the murder?

Answer: By instruction of Matzui diarrea had been caused in this test subjects human and that was used as ground to inject him potassium cyanide.

Question: Does that mean that you had deceived that man? After saying him that you are going to make him injection for the sake of treatment, really you injected him potassium cyanide, was it so?

Answer: Right.”[xxiv]

At its session on December 28, 1949, the court posed for the Forensic Medical Expert Commission four questions. Answering them, Commision issued an opinion, which, along with other statements, had included such conclusion: “… all studies [carried out in Units 731, 100 and 1644 – B.Y.] were concluded with experimental estimation of efficacy of different kinds of weapon or means of its use. In these experiments… living humans were used as “guinea pigs”. Bacteriological weapon regarded as suitable for testing in battlefield conditions, if in conditions of proving ground its use had led to… forcible contamination and death of people. In such a way bombs filled with bacteria of plague and anthrax had been test subjects, efficacy of bombs filled with plague flees had been studied.”[xxv]


Having considered some examples of human experimentation which were presented at the Khabarovsk trial, we can turn now to rationale of such practices developed by the Japanese medical military, first of all – by Ishii Shiro, head of the Unit 731. Soviet jurist Mark Yu. Raginsky gave rather striking evidence. Describing activities of the anti-epidemical laboratory in Tokyo (Vakamatzu-Tzio), he had reproduced evidence of “the former officer of anti-epidemic laboratory, Captain of Medical Service, witness, who spoke at the Khabarovsk Trial under the pseudonym[xxvi] Nakagava Posirii…”[xxvii] According to Posirii, Ishii Shiro once told to officers of the laboratory: “military medicine consists not only in treatment and prevention, genuine military medicine is destined for attack.”[xxviii]

Such “unorthodox” understanding of medicine found its embodiment in extremely extensive program of research, which included fierce experiments on humans. Yet efforts to develop effective bacteriological weapon turned out far from successful. For instance, during preliminary investigation Lt-General Kajitsuka told about his meeting with Ishii in February 1941. “In the end of our talk – remembered Kajitsuka, – Ishii told me that after all research carried out under his guidance he had concluded that it turned out not so easy to spread epidemic deliberately as some people might think and as he himself had believed earlier. Natural spread of epidemic occurs rather easy, yet artificial spread of epidemic meets with different obstacles, and sometimes you need to make a lot of efforts to overcome them. Success of such undertakings depends, according to his opinion, on individual susceptibility of humans to different infectious diseases; that is why he had decided to go in for this problem.”[xxix]

During that talk Ishii had mentioned that, as it had been ascertained in the course of research done in Unit 731, release of bacteria packaged into air bombs gives minimal effect, because due to strong resistance of air and too high temperature bacteria, which have poor endurance, such as bacteria of dysentery, typhus, paratyphoid, cholera and plague, perish in almost 100% of cases. Ishii told also about other problems related with spreading bacteria from airplanes. So, another opportunities had been studied, such as release not just of bacteria as such, but in conjunction with insects, first of all flees.

As another alternative use of food (vegetables, fruits, fish and meat) contaminated with bacteria of cholera, dysentery, typhus and paratyphoid was studied. It was shown that the vegetables, first of all cabbage, were the most effective kind of food for such purpose.[xxx]

When asked at the trial, Kajitsuka told about “the secret of secrets” of Unit 731, which had been uncovered to him by Ishii:

“Secret of secrets” was research and other activities on preparation of bacteriological warfare, results of these activities and experiments on living humans. … Ishii told me that there are different methods of bacteriological warfare. These methods are: firstly, method of diversion, secondly, use of artillery shells, thirdly, use of air bombs.

After that Ishii Siro told me that usually shells and air bombs were maid from metal, but if to stuff these bombs and shells with bacteria, then at the moment of burst bacteria perished due to high temperature caused by explosion of a big charge. That is why in Ishii’s unit they had decided to use porcelain bombs, which became an object of research. …

Then, according to Ishii’s words, use of pathogenic organisms by way of polluting of drinking water and food is a successful method of use of bacteriological weapon.

Question: Which pathogenic organism Ishii regarded as the most suitable for a future bacteriological war?

Answer: As early as that time he regarded plague flees as the most suitable ones.

Question: Tell the court more on this.

Answer: Ishii said that in natural conditions plague epidemic appears rather easily, but it is not so easy to produce it artificially. Studying reasons of that he told that it is not enough to have only pathogenic organisms to produce epidemics. It is needed also to know very well physiological conditions and physiological peculiarities of people. And he said that only by way of studying of human’s physiological peculiarities it would be possible to get knowledge on conditions of artificial arousal of epidemic.

Question: That means that such study of physiological peculiarities should be carried out through experiments on living humans?

Answer: Yes, exactly. …

[General Ishii] told me that these experiments were carried out in the unit, i.e. in laboratory, as well as in field environment…”[xxxi]

So, development of bacteriological weapon and especially study of physiological peculiarities of effects, caused by different types of it, requested to design and carry out more and more experiments and to use more and more humans. For instance, there were researches devoted to effects of infecting by pathogenic bacteria humans representing different ethnic groups. Along with humans of Chinese, Russian, Korean, Mongolian origin there were experiments on American prisoners of war. According to evidence of defendant Major Karasawa, these experiments were carried out in the city Mukden (Shenyang) in Manchuria:

“Question: Whether Unit 731 was occupied with study of immunity of American prisoners of war to contagious diseases?

Answer: As I can recall, it was in the beginning of 1943. At that time I was in a hospital in Mukden and research fellow Minata came to see me. He told me about his work and informed me that at the moment he was in Mukden to study issue of immunity of American prisoners of war.

Minata was specially sent by Unit 731 in camps of allied prisoners of war to study immunity of Anglo-Saxons to contagious diseases.

Question: And for that purpose study of characteristics of blood of American prisoners of war was carried out?

Answer: Just so.”[xxxii]

Yet successfulness of Ishii’s efforts to create effective bacteriological war seems questionable. Russian biologist Mikhail Supotnitzky, an author of two volumes on history of plague,[xxxiii] makes rather interesting remarks on this point. He writes that in the 30th idea to use dangerous pathogenic agents of infectious diseases was in the air.

That was caused, on one side, by developments in technical possibilities to use air force for massive biological attacks on enemy’s cities. On the other side, achievements in bacteriology and epidemiology had produced illusion of “full knowledge” of biology of infectious diseases. It seemed doubtless that spread of pathogenic agents of dangerous illnesses could be very effective. It was needed just to push epidemic process and after that it will be developed by itself. Laboratory experiments on aerogenic infection of model animals had produced among military scientists strong belief in possibility to use so called “bacterial fog” or “rain”, created either with the special ammunition or with airplane flying at definite altitude.[xxxiv]

According to Mikhail Supotnitzky, “Failure of Ishii lies not in the lack of lethal potential in bacteria and viruses, but in the fact that it is too deeply hidden by Nature.” And his next remark: “At proving ground, at flat locality from time to time Japanese had succeeded in blowing up ceramic bomb at preset altitude over prisoners which were tied to ground stakes. Those, in their turn, had “waited” till plague flees would crawled onto them. But it would be impossible when an enemy resists, especially in cross-country.”[xxxv]

“Official Chinese sources, inclined to exaggeration – writes Supotnitzky, – noted that on the whole the Japanese had subjected to bacteriological attacks 11 chief towns of different districts were… In 1952 Chinese estimated quantity of victims from artificially caused plague in 1940-1944 as about 700 people. … It turned out even lesser than quantity of undone “logs”! As for the Soviet troops, it was no any case of disease at all, despite the fact that they carried out military operations in natural niduses of the disease and entered cities enveloped with plague. Artificially caused bubonic plague among Chinese “refused” to create complications in lungs and did not formed self-reproducing files inside population.”

Tsuneishi Keiichi makes similar conclusions on low effectiveness of the Ishii’s program. Describing one of the early stages of it, namely, the large-scale attack on the city of Ningbo on October 27, 1940, Tsuneishi notes: “This attack, killing more than one hundred people, was the most lethal in this series of attacks on Chinese cities. However, when one considers that heavy bombers on a risky low-altitude run carried out the attack, these results have to be considered a military failure.

There were two primary reasons for this failure. First, the bacteria used were so infectious that it immediately set off alarms among its victims. Second, the effort suffered from exaggerated expectations of the ability to artificially spark an epidemic. … It was expected that pathogens dropped in a densely populated area like Ningbo would quickly spread person to person, but these expectations were betrayed.”[xxxvi]

Then Tsuneishi gives similar assessment to some of the subsequent stages of the program: “In April [1942], Japan launched the Zhejiang campaign. In this campaign, Ishii and company carried out massive biological weapons attacks. Cholera bacteria were the main pathogen employed, and the attacks resulted in more than 10,000 casualties. It has also been reported that some victims contracted dysentery and the plague. More than 1700 soldiers died, mostly from cholera. This would have been considered a great success for the Ishii group, but for the fact that all of the victims were Japanese soldiers.”[xxxvii]  

 Supotnitzky notes that Ishii had definitely exaggerated meaning of his unit in front of the Kwantung Army’s command. Indeed, during Khabarovsk trial one of witnesses, Colonel Timura, former head of personnel department of the Kwantung Army, was asked:

Question: I ask you, witness, to tell us what had been reported to you by Ishii when you inspected Unit 731[xxxviii] about goals of the Unit, on one side, and about preparedness of the Unit to fulfill combat mission, on the other side.

Answer: Ishii told me that efficacy of bacteria had been test subjects in experiments on living humans in laboratory setting as well as in field condition and that bacteriological weapon was the most powerful weapon in hands of the Kwantung Army. He informed me that Unit 731 was in full alertness and in case of necessity… the Unit would be ready to rain down directly on the enemy troops huge masses of deadly bacteria, that the Unit could also to use air force for carrying out military operations in enemy’s rear over its cities.”[xxxix]

Later Timura, according to his words, reported on the preparedness of the Unit to bacteriological warfare to the Commander-in-Chief of the Kwantung Army, General Yamada.

Yet M. Supotnitzky rather sarcastically estimates these reports: “It was Ishii who told in such manner about his 10 old airplanes, where as the Soviet Army was preparing for war against Japan 3800 airplanes of the latest design.

Let us to see now whether it was really possible to cause damage to Soviet troops by means of Japanese bacteriological weapon. Suppose a Japanese plane forced its way through air defense system and struck Soviet troops emplacement. Suppose air temperature and humidity were optimal for maximal activities of flees. Fleas were “blocked” and when a bomb was exploded their legs were not tore away. Suppose then that our soldiers did not see crawling away plague flees and were stung by them. Even in such case Japanese military did not get the result of bacteriological attack, which they waited for. Even before the war many Russian and Chinese inhabitants of Harbin were aware on function of “hospital” near Pingfan. General Consulate of the USSR had regularly received information about it. In 1945 there was no secret for anybody that Japan carried out bacteriological war. … So, it is not surprising that Soviet Army was preparing to bacteriological attacks in advance and thoroughly. Personnel of Far Eastern Military District had been immunized with highly effective plague vaccine.”[xl]

We can conclude now that, firstly, it was impossible to carry out Japanese project of development of bacteriological weapon without ever growing amount of human sacrifices; secondly, the project was doomed to failure as it was the case with projects of kamikaze pilots and kamikaze torpedos.


As it was mentioned earlier, court verdict was announced on December 30, 1949, at night. All 12 defendants were found guilty and sentenced to different terms in labour camps. State Counsel for the prosecution in his speech requested to sentence Yamada, Kajitsuka, Takahashi, Kawashima and Sato to 25 years of imprisonment (maximal sanctions at the moment), Karasawa, Nishi, Onoue, Hirazakura and Mitomo – from 15 to 20 years of imprisonment[xli], Kikuchi and Kurushima – to 3 years of imprisonment. Usual practice of the Soviet justice at these times was such that court’s verdict just reproduced requests made by procecution. In our case, however, there were some divergences with these unspoken standards: for Sato (20 years), Onoue (12 years), Hirazakura (10 years) and Kikuchi (2 years) verdicts turned out to be lighter.

Many authors note that court verdict of the Khabarovsk Trial was surprisingly light in comparision with the then customary Soviet practice. For instance, Russian journalist Eug. Sholokh writes:

“Unlike International Nuremberg and then Tokyo tribunals, in Khabarovsk case nobody was sentenced to death. … Convict Japanese “experimenters” on humans were transported from camp in Voroshilovsk [now Ussuriisk] to the village Cherntzy, Ivanovo District [which is close to Moscow], where they were placed in former manor house…

Those who had actively collaborated with Soviet investigators and intelligence agents, were liberated since 1953. The last condemned left USSR in 1956. The condemned got back all their personal belongings, provided with suits and hats and even walking sticks…

More than that, in 1956 a banket for them was given in the Khabarovsk’s House of Officers of Red Army, at the same building, where previously trial had taken place.”[xlii]

Many authors propose their explanations of such unusual mildness of the Khabarovsk Court decision.

Say, G. Permyakov mentioned that when the Decree on death penalty was issued in the beginning of 1950, it became clear to him that bacteriological criminals were just saved from capital punishment, which was deserved by them. That means, notes Permyakov, that it was needed to stay them alive.[xliii]

“Why did ferocious Stalin’s tribunal was so mild with those Japanese “specialists” from Unit 731, who turned out to be captured?” – poses question Eug. Sholokh. And proposes his own answer: the reason was the same as in case of Yankee, who managed to catch leaders of the Unit, namely, it was made in exchange for very useful information disclosed by the Japanese prisoners. “Otherwise, – writes Sholokh, – it would be difficult to understand such humaneness of the Soviet justice and special services.”[xliv]

R. Working and N. Chernyakova proposed another version. They come to conclusion: “Obviously, Stalin was afraid that Japan would bump off Soviet POW in case of execution of Japanese military physicians.”[xlv] Having in mind that during the war with Nazis Germany Stalin hold all POW (including his own son) as traitors; that those of them who were released from captivity by the Red Army for most part were dispatched from German prisoner camps straight into Soviet labor camps, it would be difficult to imagine his fears about fate of Soviet prisoners in Japan. And one more point: it is difficult to imagine that there were Soviet POW held by Japan in the end of 1949.

So, we must to recognize that it was a kind of barter: mild punishment of Japanese convicts for information about bacteriological weapon.

Another destiny was meant for those average executives of the Unit 731 who were not convicted by the trial. M. Supotnitzky reproduces story told by G. Permyakov. On June 2, 1950 Permyakov had got an order to come to Khabarovsk-2 railroad station. There was a long train on railway line composed of red cars. It was told to him that there are Japanese POW, having relation to the Unit 731 and other bacteriological units. Soviet Union decided to pass them to China, and he was needed to accompany them because he could use both Japanese and Chinese languages. It turned out that the Japanese themselves did not know that they went to China. There were 1002 persons in the train. He till the end of sixtieth did not know their further fate. Yet when after developments at Damansky island[xlvi] strong tensions arouse between USSR and China, he read in the English communist newspaper “Morning Star” that these Japanese prisoners had been put on probation and with their help Chinese opened own center for development of bacteriological weapon. Since the newspaper was supported with Soviet money, Permyakov supposed that the information had been deliberately transmitted to the editors from USSR.[xlvii]


Turning now to ethical appraisal of experiments on humans which were carried out in the Unit 731, we can try to note some presuppositions making possible “without scruples” such types of experiments of unimaginable cruelty.[xlviii] These are:

1.Specific understanding of medicine (military one) as destined not only for treatment and prevention, but for attack as well.

2.Racism, theory of race superiority of the Japanese. According to John W. Dower: “First the master race which was Japan, second was the kindred races such has China and Korea, and third was the guest races that were made up of the island people like the Samoans. All the non-Japanese races were seen as lower life forms and should be subservient to Japan.”[xlix] That means that it is well possible to sacrifice by people belonging to lower races.

By the way, such approach to test subjects generates rather specific problem, namely, problem of validity research results for different racial groups. So, these results can be justifiable used if you have in mind only purposes of destroying enemy, but it is unclear whether they can be relevant in search of protection own military.  

3. Concept of ‘logs” (maruta) seems especially essential. As we saw earlier, Kawashima explained that the name “logs” was used for the sake of concpiracy. Yet it is possible to develop other, not contradictory to mentioned, but rather additional explanations to use of the term. Say, in well-known “The Devil's Gluttony” Morimura Seiichi wrote that a former officer of the Unit told him: “We counted that “logs” were not people, that they were even lower than cattle. There was no anyone among scientists and researchers who had at least minimal … to “logs”. Everybody in Unit – military as well as … regarded extinction of “logs” as something absolutely natural.”[l]

Previously Morimura noted: “In gendarmerie, before they [prisoners] were sent to the Unit, despite cruel interrogations, which were carried out with them, they nevertheless were people having tongue and forced to speak.

But since the time these people were … to the Unit, they turned out in something not more than material for studies – “logs”.[li]

So, here accent is made on “non-human” nature of the test subjects – they were perceived as not more than косный material to be tested. Sure, we can interpret such usage in terms of psychological protection of researchers and personnel of the Unit; nevertheless, it has also influence in assigning specific perception of human nature and its properties, i.e. definite type of anthropology of biomedical research.

4. One more point – efforts made by personnel of the Unit to provide those who happened to survive experiment with the best available treatment and feeding, to get them healthy. We have here rather paradoxical situation: actions, which in our everyday life we are inclined to interpret как проявление of genuine humanness – to provide somebody in need with cure and food – turned out to be their opposite, namely, preparation to new tortures. As Morimura writes: “Not only little animals and insects can be used to disseminate bacteria. Bacteria of anthrax, for instance, or typhoid can be added to food, drinking water, it is possible to contaminate with them water in wells. Production of chocolate, buns and cakes with sweet stuffing, contaminated with bacteria, was developed and test subjects. And healthy “logs” were needed for that. Health was the only thing, which was requested from the test subjects. Something more proper human was not recognized about them.”[lii]

Beneath these presuppositions we can discern a special type of anthropology of biomedical research, which, with some more or less serious modifications, prevailed for a long time. Biomedical research is understood as study of biological organisms, not more. Natural consequence of such attitude is that any ethical considerations are regarded only as obstacles on the way of gaining genuine and presumably very useful knowledge. It seems to me that researches, which were made by Japanese in Unit 731 and other similar settings present extreme case in realization of such attitude.

However, this type of anthropology of biomedical research is not the only possible one. Development of mechanisms of ethical regulation in biomedical research gives birth to new kind of research anthropology. For this anthropology humans are not just organisms but at the same time persons with their own interests, attitudes, wishes etc. Indeed, sometimes ethical considerations, which now need to be taken into account seriously and from the very beginning, pose obstacles on the way of getting new knowledge. Nevertheless, this new anthropology brings with it new opportunities for study and, consequently, for understanding of humans as entities which have more than one dimension.

[i] “Tama” – name, which was used by inhabitants of Nanking for the Unit 1644.

[ii] Materials of the Trial of Former Servicemen of the Japanese Army Accused in Manufacture and Use of Bacteriological Weapons. Moscow: State Publishing House of Political Literature; 1950 (In Russian), p. 441-442.

[iii] Tsuneishi Keiichi. Wednesday, November 23, 2005.

[iv] Tsuneishi Keiichi, op. cit. (Italics mine – B.Y.).

[v] See Mikhail Supotnitzky, (in Russian).

[vi] Georgy Permyakov (1917-2006) was born in Ussuriisk, Primopsky district. When he was 3 years old, his family went to China. Since 1927 he lived in Harbin, where studied Japanese and Chinese. He had Soviet citizenship and served as interpreter in the Soviet Consulate in Harbin. In 1945, after the Soviet Union had joined to war against Japan, Permyakov was arrested by Japanese and with other Soviet inhabitants of Manchuria imprisoned in “condemned cell”. After War was over he came back to the Soviet Union and worked as interpreter in the Khabarovsk’s Department of the USSR Ministry of Interior. He was interpreter in Japanese prisoners-of-war camp, in which high rank officers of the Kwantung Army, including ministers of Manchuria’s government and even the last Chinese Emperor P'u Yi, were imprisoned. Since August 1945 till June 1950, when the Soviet authorities departed P’u Yi to Mao Tze Tung, Permyakov  was personal interpreter and teacher of Russian for P’u Yi.

[vii] Georgy Permyakov. Death Zone. – “Tikhookeanskaya zvezda” [Pacific Ocean’s Star], Febr.29, 2000 (in Russian).

[viii] See, for instance, S.Ya. Ulitzky. Struggle with Crime During Patriotic War. Vladivostok, Far Eastern University Publishing House, 2000, p. 29 (in Russian).

[ix] A. E. Epiphanov. Cases of Foreigners, Condemned on Accusations in War Crimes, in the Practice of Rehabilitation. – “Pravo I Politika” (Law and Politics), 2001, #2.


[xi] See I. V. Domaradsky. Inverted. (in Russian). 

[xii] Materials …, pp. 7-27.

[xiii] Ibid., p. 8.

[xiv] Ibid., p. 19.

[xv] Ibid., p. 55-56.

[xvi] Ibid., p. 259.

[xvii] Ibid., p. 15.

[xviii] Ibid., p. 56.

[xix] Ibid., p. 61-62.

[xx] Ibid., p. 356-357.

[xxi] Ibid., p. 431.

[xxii] Ibid., p. 17 (Italics mine – B.Y.).

[xxiii] Ibid., p. 114 (Italics mine – B.Y.).

[xxiv] Ibid., p. 322-323.

[xxv] Ibid., p. 396.

[xxvi] Exactly so! – B.Y. By the way, there is no any mention about this witness in published “Materials…”, see footnote 5.

[xxvii] M.Yu. Raginsky. Militarists on the Doc. By Materials of Tokyo and Khabarovsk Trials. Moscow: Publishing House “Juridical Literature”, 1985, p.166. (In Russian).

[xxviii] Ibid., p. 167.

[xxix] Materials…, p. 102.

[xxx] See Materials…, p. 100-101.

[xxxi] Ibid., p. 296-298.

[xxxii] Ibid., p. 265.

[xxxiii] Mikhail Supotnitzky, Nadezhda Supotnitzkaya. Studies on History of Plague. In two books. Moscow, Vuzovskaya Kniga Publishing House, 468+696 p., 2006 (in Russian).

[xxxiv] See (In Russian).

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Tsuneishi Keiichi, op. cit.

[xxxvii] Ibid.

[xxxviii] The inspection took place in June 1945.

[xxxix] Materials…, p. 349.

[xl] Mikhail Supotnitzky,

[xli] Exactly so. It seems that, as the trial need to be finished at night, prosecution had not enough time to proclaim personal terms for every one of defendants.

[xlii] Eug. Sholokh. Infernal Kitchen of Daddy Ishii Shiro. –, Weekly, #50, 21.12.04 (in Russian).

[xliii] G. Permyakov. Op. cit.

[xliv] Eug. Sholokh. Op. cit.

[xlv] R. Working, N. Chernyakova. Crimes and Punishment of Japanese Physicians. – Vladivostok, #1058, 12.10.2001 (in Russian).

[xlvi] Clash between Soviet and Chinese troops took place in March 1969 near island Damansky at border river of Ussuri. – B.Y.

[xlvii] See Mikhail Supotnitzky. Op. cit.


[xlix] John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986), 8.

[l] Morimura Seiichi, The Devil's Gluttony. (Russian translation). Moscow, 1983, p.13.

[li] Ibid., p. 5.

[lii] Ibid., p. 6.

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