Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Japanese Occupation Forced Labour from Penang

During the WW2, many Strait Settlement residents were sent to Siam for the railway construction by the Imperial Japanese Army. Some of them were not military men, but civilian. There were the POW or Prisoner of War, and the civilian forced labour. Many died at the construction site and never returned. Some returned after the war, but were sicked and ill nourished, many died after their return.

Two of my uncle were the civilian forced labour for the construction of railway in Thailand. They died shortly after their return to Penang. They were returned, but a different person; weak, sick and undernourished. There were no money for their medical treatment. The time was tough in the post war period, and they passed away without a chance.....

Abducted civilian forced labor(強制連行・強制労働犠牲者/被害者)

Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)
Forced or compulsory labour shall mean all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.

There were many Romusha (労務者, Rōmusha, "laborer")from Asian countries in World War II, who were forced by the Imperial Japanese Army as forced laborers during the Japanese occupation(日本軍の強制労働) . They are ordinary people who were unwillingly forced to leave their home in the army trucks, and sent work at the railway track in the Siam/Burma border. They were not just romusha, but the victim of forced labor(強制労働犠牲者). In Japanese, forced labor is called Kyōsei rō dō(強制労働,きょうせいろうどう), unlike POW(Prisoner of war) or hori-yo( 捕虜,ほりょ)who are war prisoners protected under international law, the forced laborer were merely ordinary civilian who are not prison labor( 囚人労働,[しゅうじんろうどう). They were abducted into Forced Labor Concentration Camp(強制労働収容所)against their wishes, a forced movement of forced labor, is Kyosei ren ko to Kyōsei rō dō(強制連行と強制労働) in Japanese. (note: 強制連行,きょうせいれんこう, kyosei ren ko means abduction against the victim's will)

POW Forced Labor of Japan Imperial Army(日本軍の捕虜の強制労働)
The Imperial Japan Army however did not comply with international Convention, and instead treated the POW as forced labor. It is forced labour of Japanese POW(日本軍の捕虜の強制労働)or POW forced labor, which was a breach of International Convention on POW.
The Japanese military's use of forced labor, by Asian civilians and POWs also caused many deaths. According to a joint study by historians including Zhifen Ju, Mitsuyoshi Himeta, Toru Kubo and Mark Peattie, more than 10 million Chinese civilians were mobilized by the Kōa-in (Japanese Asia Development Board) for forced labour. More than 100,000 civilians and POWs died in the construction of the Burma-Siam Railway.
The U.S. Library of Congress estimates that in Java, between four and 10 million romusha (Japanese: "manual laborer"), were forced to work by the Japanese military. About 270,000 of these Javanese laborers were sent to other Japanese-held areas in South East Asia. Only 52,000 were repatriated to Java, meaning that there was a death rate of 80%.

According to historian Akira Fujiwara, Emperor Hirohito personally ratified the decision to remove the constraints of international law (Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907)) on the treatment of Chinese prisoners of war in the directive of August 5, 1937. This notification also advised staff officers to stop using the term "prisoners of war". The Geneva Convention exempted POWs of sergeant rank or higher from manual labour, and stipulated that prisoners performing work should be provided with extra rations and other essentials. However, Japan was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention at the time, and Japanese forces did not follow the convention.
The Empire of Japan, which had never signed the Second Geneva Convention of 1929, also did not treat prisoners of war in accordance with international agreements, including provisions of the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907), either during the Second Sino-Japanese War or during the Pacific War. Moreover, according to a directive ratified on 5 August 1937 by Hirohito, the constraints of the Hague Conventions were explicitly removed on Chinese prisoners

Prisoners of war from China, the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the Philippines held by the Japanese armed forces were subject to murder, beatings, summary punishment, brutal treatment, forced labour, medical experimentation, starvation rations and poor medical treatment. The most notorious use of forced labour was in the construction of the Burma–Thailand Death Railway

According to the findings of the Tokyo Tribunal, the death rate of Western prisoners was 27.1%, seven times that of POWs under the Germans and Italians. The death rate of Chinese was much larger. Thus, while 37,583 prisoners from the United Kingdom, Commonwealth and Dominions, 28,500 from Netherlands and 14,473 from the United States were released after the surrender of Japan, the number for the Chinese was only 56. After the war, it became clear that there existed a high command order – issued from the War Ministry in Tokyo – to kill all remaining POWs

The International Labour Organization's Forced Labour Convention of 1930 defines forced labour as "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself [or herself] voluntarily." (For the origins of the term "corvée," see the entry in the Columbia Encyclopedia.)

One of the few very scholars to have attended to the genocidal (or "democidal") dimension of forced labour is R.J. Rummel. In his book Death by Government, Rummel offers the estimate that "at a rock-bottom minimum, 10 million colonial forced laborers must have died" as a result of the brutal exploitation inflicted upon them, and "the true toll may have been several times this number." He adds:

This does not even weigh the human cost of the state's conventional forced labor -- that of subjects compelled to man galleys, sail ships (as by the operation of press-gangs in British ports), carry supplies and weapons in time of war or rebellion, build pyramids, construct fortifications, or build roads, bridges, dams, canals and the like. Indeed, the use of such forced labor, or corvée, has been traditional in Asia, even up to recent decades. Sometimes this labor served in lieu of taxes, where the subject was decreed to owe to the king or emperor or state a month or more of labor per year. While perhaps justifiable in theory, the practice often meant that overseers would execute the laborer that was too often late for work, slow on the job, sickly, or critical of the work. (Rummel, Death by Government [New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1994], pp. 64-65.)

The Burma Railway
The Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, the Thailand–Burma Railway and similar names, is a 415 kilometres (258 mi) railway between Bangkok, Thailand, and Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar), built by the Empire of Japan during World War II, to support its forces in the Burma campaign.

Forced labour was used in its construction. About 180,000 Asian labourers and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) worked on the railway. Of these, around 90,000 Asian laborers (mainly romusha) and 16,000 Allied POWs died as a direct result of the project. The dead POWs included 6,318 British personnel, 2,815 Australians, 2,490 Dutch, about 356 Americans and a smaller number of Canadians and New Zealanders.

POW Camp & Forced Labor Concentration Camp
The living and working conditions on the railway were horrific. The estimated total number of civilian labourers and POWs who died during construction varies considerably, but the Australian Government figures suggest that of the 330,000 people that worked on the line (including 250,000 Asian labourers and 61,000 Allied POWs) about 90,000 of the labourers and about 16,000 Allied prisoners died. See external link below.
Portrait of POW "Dusty" Rhodes. A three-minute sketch by Old painted in Thailand in 1944.

Life in the POW camps was recorded at great risk to themselves by artists such as Jack Bridger Chalker, Philip Meninsky, Ashley George Old and Ronald Searle. Human hair was often used for brushes, plant juices and blood for paint, and toilet paper as the 'canvas'. Some of their works were used as evidence in the trials of Japanese war criminals. Many are now held by the Australian War Memorial, State Library of Victoria and the Imperial War Museum in London.

But the horrors, starvation, sickness, and death that occurred during the construction of the Thailand-Burma railway are not the whole story. Except for the worst months of the construction period, known as the "Speedo" (mid-spring to mid-October 1943), one of the ways the Allied POWs kept their spirits going in the hellish conditions was to ask one of the musicians in their midst to play his guitar or accordion for them, or lead them in a group singalong, or request their camp comedians to tell some rough jokes, or put on a skit.

After the railway was completed, the POWs still had almost two years to survive before their liberation. During this time, most of the POWs were moved to hospital and relocation camps where they could be available for maintenance crews or sent to Japan to alleviate the manpower shortage there. It was in these camps that entertainment flourished as an essential part of their rehabilitation. Theatres out of bamboo and atap (palm fronds) were built, set, lighting, costumes and makeup devisded, and an array of entertainment produced that included music halls, variety shows, cabarets, plays, and musical comedies – even pantomimes. These activities engaged numerous POWs as actors, singers, musicians, designers, technicians, and female impersonators.

POWs and Asian workers were also used to build the Kra Isthmus Railway from Chumphon to Kra Buri, and the Sumatra or Palembang Railway from Pakanbaroe to Moeara.

The construction of the Burma Railway is counted as a war crime committed by Japan in Asia. Hiroshi Abe, the first lieutenant who supervised construction of the railway at Sonkrai where over 3,000 POWs died, was later sentenced to death as a B/C class war criminal. His sentence was later commuted to 15 years in prison.

Hellfire Pass was a particularly difficult section of the line to build due to it being the largest rock cutting on the railway, coupled with its general remoteness and the lack of proper construction tools during building. The Australian, British, Dutch, other allied prisoners of war, along with Chinese, Malays and Tamils labourers, were required by the Japanese to complete the cutting. Sixty nine men were beaten to death by Japanese and Korean guards in the six weeks it took to build the cutting, and many more died from cholera, dysentery, starvation, and exhaustion (Wigmore 568)

The Railway after the war
After the war the railway was in very poor condition and needed heavy reconstruction for use by the Royal Thai Railway system. On 24 June 1949, the portion from Kanchanaburi to Nong Pladuk (Thai หนองปลาดุก) was finished; on 1 April 1952, the next section up to Wang Pho (Wangpo) was done. Finally, on 1 July 1958 the rail line was completed to Nam Tok (Thai น้ำตก, English Sai Yok "waterfalls".) The portion in use today measures some 130 km (80 miles). The line was abandoned beyond Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi. The steel rails were salvaged for reuse in expanding the Bangsue railway yard, reinforcing the BKK-Banphachi double track, rehabilitating the track from Thung Song to Trang, and constructing both the Nong Pladuk-Suphanburi and Ban Thung Pho-Khirirat Nikhom branch lines. Parts of abandoned route have been converted into a walking trail.

Since the 1990s various proposals have been made to rebuild the complete railway, but these plans have not yet come to fruition. Since a large part of the original railway line is now submerged by the Vajiralongkorn Dam, and the surrounding terrain is mountainous, it would take extensive tunneling to reconnect Thailand with Burma by rail.

Cemeteries and memorials
After the war, the remains of most of the war dead were moved from former POW camps burial grounds and solitary sites along the rail line to one of three war cemeteries. The exception was fallen Americans, who were repatriated to the United States. (A total of 902 American POWs worked on the railway – 534 men from the 131st Field Artillery Regiment and 368 survivors of the sunken USS Houston (CA-30); 133 of them died.)

The main POW cemetery is in the city of Kanchanaburi, where 6,982 POWs are buried, mostly British, Australian, Dutch and Canadians. Also at the main cemetery is the Kanchanaburi Memorial, which honours 11 Indian soldiers from British regiments who were buried in local Muslim cemeteries. A smaller cemetery just outside the city is Chung Kai, with 1,750 war graves. Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar has the graves of 3,617 POWs (3,149 Commonwealth and 621 Dutch) who died on the Burmese portion of the line. The three cemeteries there are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Several museums are dedicated to those who perished building the railway. The largest of these is at Hellfire Pass (north of the current terminus at Nam Tok), a cutting where the greatest number of lives were lost. An Australian memorial is at Hellfire Pass. Two other museums are in Kanchanaburi – the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum, opened in March 2003, and the JEATH War Museum. There is a memorial plaque at the Kwae bridge itself and an historic wartime steam locomotive is on display.

A preserved section of line has been rebuilt at the National Memorial Arboretum in England.

The Special Action Programme to combat Forced Labour (SAP-FL) by ILO
In June 1998 the International Labour Conference adopted a Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up that obligates member States to respect, promote and realize freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour, the effective abolition of child labour, and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. The InFocus Programme on Promoting the Declaration is responsible for the reporting processes and technical cooperation activities associated with the Declaration; and it carries out awareness raising, advocacy and knowledge functions.

In November 2001, following the publication of the first Global Report on forced labour, the ILO Governing Body created a Special Action Programme to combat Forced Labour (SAP-FL), as part of broader efforts to promote the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up.

But many were not POW, but civilian forced labor ....

When my two uncles passed away, as victim of force labour of Japanese Imperial Army. What left in the family were two old aged parent and younger siblings, who still need the financial support. Facing the difficult time of post war period, without the presence of the two sons who are skilled in the trade, the family business suffered. No family members were able to manage the business, the lucrative family business finally was forced to close. This greatly affected the livelihood and financial of the family for many years. My grandparent were left to suffer the agony of the loss of two sons, and the loss of business that was build up by their parent. They suffered for a long time, until they passed away... An unforgotten event of the WW2, only the family members will understand the mental torture, of the past memory of the war.

For such a long time........the bad memory of Japanese Occupation in Penang.....

It was a long time since the WW2, many things had been forgotten; yet my two uncles who died young during the Japanese Occupation were forever staying underground not knowing why this happen to them. They returned and died, and their names will be forgotten, without any memorial. Only a basic tombstone, and wild grasses accompanied them, without any family member of his own as they died young and unmarried.

Some years later, may be as their siblings are slowly followed them to the next world; they will be forgotten, and tombstone will be no more, and may be disappeared without any traces. So were the history of forced labor of Burma/Siamese from Penang.

They were not POW, but only forced labor of Imperial Japanese Army during the occupation......and the ugly story still continue today...

But, Lest We Forget .... the historical truth...禁止強制労働(きょうせいろうどう)...

Related articles/books/websites:
1. Proof of POW Forced Labor for Japan’s Foreign Minister: The Aso Mines; http://www.japanfocus.org/-William-Underwood/2432
2. The Special Action Programme to combat Forced Labour (SAP-FL), http://www.ilo.org/sapfl/AboutSAPFL/lang--en/index.htm
3. ILO between the two world wars 1930, http://www.ilo.org/public/english/support/lib/century/content/1930.htm

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