World War II: Prisoners of war held in Taiwan
Surrounded by mountains on the northeastern coast of Taiwan, Jangwashi is a tourist destination. But beneath this green and beach landscape is a dark chapter of history.
It was also the site of the Kankasiki camp, one of more than a dozen POW camps. About 4,350 Allied troops were captured during World War II.
At that time, Taiwan was a colony of Japan. Between 1942 and 1945, soldiers captured by the Japanese army were forced to work in copper mines under difficult conditions.
Large stones were forcibly removed from the captive camps for gun farming in the camps, artificial lakes for the rice crop and watery vegetable soups.
Many soldiers contracted beriberi, a disease in which their legs and testicles became swollen due to vitamin deficiencies, but they were still forced to work.
In the summer, the prisoners had to work in copper mines at a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius, and in the winter, there were many deaths due to the severe weather. If they did not meet the daily targets, they would be beaten with a mining hammer.
Decades later, these camps have been forgotten. Now there is no trace of this dark history or prisoners of war. But Canadian historian Michael Hurst wanted to change that.
He told the BBC: “These were forced labor camps. I realized we had to find the prisoners and hear their story. “
Hurst, 73, has lived in Taiwan since 1988. Over the past two decades, he has sought to establish a monument to the original location of the camps in Taiwan.
He managed to contact 800 such people in search of thousands of prisoners. He recorded his conversation with her in his book “Never Forget”.
All of them are now dead but one is a former prisoner. He is over 100 years old.
“They told me it was easy to die here but hard to live every day,” Hurst said.
“I was impressed with their stories and I was amazed at the way they were treated. I shed tears over it many times. He was telling me his heart’s content, things he probably didn’t even tell his family. “
Hurst also has a personal connection to the project. His relatives were stationed in Europe and he always wanted to pay tribute to the survivors of the war.
He acknowledges that efforts toward the Pacific in the war have not been well received. There were even 30 million deaths in the area. “We were always hungry,” he said.
Troops were sent to Asia from around the world to defend the Allies against the Japanese withdrawal. Hearst says Taiwan had senior military officers and was considered the most ruthless in the region.
Their investigation is based on archived documents, testimony given by a war tribunal, personal dialysis, information provided by Taiwanese guards, and detainees’ own testimonies.
One of them was U.S. Army Sergeant Carl A. Pasarka, who joined the war at the age of 24. When he was recruited, his boss offered to postpone his appointment, but he refused.
“We were always hungry,” he wrote in a letter to Hurst before he died. We think about how to survive and how to get back home. ‘
He recalls that once some young Taiwanese girls tried to feed him, but were “immediately slapped” by Japanese guards and stopped.
According to the National Museum of World War II in the United States, the death toll in Japanese camps in Asia was much higher than in Germany or Italy in Europe.
About 27 to 42 percent of Allied troops in Asia died of starvation, incurable diseases or the death penalty. In Europe, the rate was one to two percent.
Japan was a party to the Geneva Conventions on Prisoners of War but did not comply. “I don’t think it was the law,” Hurst said.
“If you surrender (to the Japanese army), you are humiliating yourself, your family and your king. The most humiliating situation was being a prisoner of war. Therefore, these prisoners were treated like animals, as if they had no value.
Happiness as well as disappointment on returning home
All the surviving prisoners were released, but the release did not live up to their expectations. According to Hurst, several governments told the soldiers not to talk to anyone about their captivity so that weaknesses in the war strategy would not come to light.
Some suffered from disabilities and illnesses throughout their lives, and some died prematurely, and the trauma did not subside for many years.
Elaine Eastley tells of her husband, John Farmer, a soldier in the British Royal Artillery, who never talked about his experience in concentration camps.
“It simply came to our notice then. I was married to him but I have no idea what he endured.
Accompanied by her daughter, Lynn Mount, she visited Taiwan twice and saw the remains of concentration camps where her husband was imprisoned.
During his second visit, Lynn Mount said, “I was very angry and saddened to see these camps, especially when I saw my father’s name on the memorial wall in Kankasiki. When I went to this camp, I felt very close to my father.
Lin Mount’s father died in the same camp when she was 11 years old.
Operation Colomba: Pigeon-spying mission in World War II
Why is there so little mention of Muslim soldiers in World War II?
Spot on history
For those from Taiwan, these camps are a blot on their history. But people believe that their island was under Japanese occupation at the time.
Michael Hurst says Taiwan played a key role in the war because it had a large military base from which Japan launched several attacks.
Although World War II is taught in Taiwan, critics say it is not enough, and nothing is said about Coalition prisoners held in Taiwan, nor about the strategic importance of the Taiwan War. More is said.
But it is also true that some Taiwanese citizens voluntarily fought for and worked for Japan.
Michael Hurst’s research revealed that these people were trained to be loyal to Japan and that they worked as guards in camps or in the Japanese Navy.
He also played the role of Kamikaze Pilots, a group of famous Japanese pilots who went on suicide missions and targeted Allied forces.
Since then, there has been a heated debate in Taiwan over what he teaches about his role in the war.
Michael Hurst pointed out that unlike the soldiers killed in World War II in Europe, few commemorations are held for Allied soldiers killed on the Pacific front.
Michael Hurst believes that history must be taught and that more must be done to honor the soldiers who fought on the Asia-Pacific front.
After the war ended, Japanese officers and Taiwanese guards stationed in the camps were convicted and sent to prison, but most were later pardoned.
Michael Hurst told the BBC that more than 50 per cent of the people had not been convicted, although some Taiwanese guards had apologized to prisoners of war. “When these guards apologize and the prisoners say I forgave you, that guard will be able to have a peaceful death again. Forgiveness is a great thing. “
But the happiest thing for Michael Hurst was that with his help, the former prisoners were getting to know how much they had to go through in their youth and make sacrifices.
“Everyone I spoke to told me that thankfully someone cared. They were all very grateful that they were not forgotten, they fought for our freedom.