Official Statements: Russia

Japanese POWs

After WWII ended, the fate of hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers in Siberia became uncertain.  It was believed that these soldiers had died, stayed in the Soviet Union, or were forced into labor.  Both Japan and the Soviet Union maintained conflicting versions of the number of dead and un-repatriated Japanese POWs held by the Red Army.  The Soviet government argued that repatriation was completed between 1947 and 1950, finding that 34, 000 had died in Siberia and were buried in 341 different grave sites.  They did not admit to any sort of detention or labor.  The Japanese government argued that hundreds of thousands were unaccounted for, with numbers ranging from 320,000 to 600,000 Japanese.  They feared that these Japanese were being used for forced labor within the Soviet Union.  Talks between the two countries stalled after the Soviet Union announced its findings, but starting in 1953, they resumed, this time mediated by the Red Cross. 

The Red Cross intervention led to the repatriation of more than 5,300 Japanese and a revision of earlier Soviet figures: 341 grave sites became 27 sites, 34,000 dead became 15,000.  Moreover, they added that the Red Army did detain many Japanese, but the number who had died while in detention was only 3,500 Japanese.  The Japanese argued more were unaccounted for and demanded compensation, an accurate list of names of those who died or stayed in the Soviet Union, and permission for relatives to visit burial sites.  The issue remained untouched for roughly 40 years.

On June 20, 1990, academics and Red Cross officials from the Soviet Union convened a panel and found that the U.S.S.R. detained more than 594, 000 Japanese for forced labor after WWII, among this number, 546, 000 were taken to camps within the Soviet Union and forced into labor.  Most of these camps were in Siberia, but some were sent to Soviet Europe and the Caucasus for railroad construction, factory work, and other types of labor.  They found that in the course of the dentition, 46, 082 died.  What this proved was that military advances continued even after Japan’s surrender and that the Soviet Union did detain and use Japanese as forced laborers.  The panel therefore worked to get the Soviet government to make an official declaration and search for documents on the detainees kept in Soviet archives. 

In April 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev visited Japan and handed a list of dead POWs to government officials, formally admitting that 38, 000 had died.  Additionally, some remains of Japanese were returned to families and an agreement to allow families to visit the graves of their relatives in Siberia.  During his stay, Gorbachev offered "feelings of sympathy" for the internment of POWs.

On January 22, 1992, the Federation of Russia issued certificates to former Japanese POWs for their forced labor in Siberia.  The issuance of labor certificates paved the way for Japanese detainees to be compensated for their forced labor after the end of WWII.

On October 13, 1993, President Boris Yeltsin officially apologized to PM Morihiro Hosokawa for the inhumane treatment of Japanese POWs after WWII. 

     "The treatment of prisoners of war was the residue of  
     Soviet totalitarianism.  As President, and on behalf of
     the Russian people, I apologize for the inhumane
     conduct."

He also apologized to Emperor Akihito for the POWs who died in the labor camps and jails.

     "I would like to offer my deep condolences for the many
     Japanese who died on Russian territory in the past."