Eleven Winters of Discontent: The Siberian Internment and the Making of Modern Japan by Sherzod Muminov
By Kelly Noble, Gold Mine Processing Manager
It should not be surprising if you have not heard of the Siberian Internment. I would speculate that most Americans would know little of this period in Japanese History—fortunately, a new book on the subject was published in 2022.
Professor Muminov, a historian at the University of East Anglia, has authored a well-researched book that includes an analysis of recently released Soviet war-era documents. The author aims to highlight this moment in history and examine the overall impact on post-war Japanese society.
At the end of the second world war, three divisions of the Russian Army invaded northern China- a place historically called Manchuria. The Japanese had previously invaded the same area in 1932 and set up a Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. At the time of the Russian invasion in 1945, approximately 2.7 million Japanese were living in the area. By mid-1945, the Japanese Army found itself under attack and retreating after the Japanese agreed to an unconditional surrender. The Japanese defenses were no match for the Russian Army, and after a few months of fighting, 600,000 Japanese Imperial Army soldiers and civilians had been captured. The war was over, and most POWs were expected to be released, ending a long, arduous journey for most prisoners of war. Unfortunately for the Japanese, Joseph Stalin had other ideas.
Over the next eleven years, the Soviets would use the POWS as forced labor (slave labor) to rebuild Russia’s infrastructure. The Japanese prisoners, including many women and civilian government officials, were shipped off to various labor camps throughout the Soviet Union. The conditions were harsh, and approximately 60,000 POWs died in captivity. Muminov’s book contains many stories of camp life. These stories, gleaned from survivor accounts published after their repatriation, spoke of hardship, malnutrition, and Soviet reeducation.
Repatriation and freedom did not alleviate the pain of cruelty. The scars of war run deep, and the effects of such harsh experiences are not easily forgotten or erased. Many of the children of these survivors often spoke of the memories their loved ones bore. In post-modern Japan, the idea of victimhood entered the national dialogue. But how much emphasis should the world give the Japanese? Let us remember; the Japanese invaded China in 1932 with the imperial idea of setting up a permanent state on Chinese territory. Victimization has many layers.
I highly recommend Muminov’s new book, Eleven Winters of Discontent. There is much to be learned from world history.