Fifty years after the end of World War II, six former members of a biological warfare unit in the Japanese Imperial Army have come forward to tell of atrocities that included live human dissections.
The new testimony comes in a 74-page book, “The Truth About Unit 731,” published Friday by a small citizens’ group in Japan’s northern state of Iwate.
Researchers say Unit 731, based in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, killed at least 3,000 people from China, Russia, Korea and Mongolia in top-secret experiments.
The victims were subject to horrid abuse: given shrapnel-induced gangrene, injected with germs, poisoned with chemicals or operated on - sometimes without anesthesia - all in the name of medical research.
Historians say U.S. officials agreed not to bring warcrimes charges against Unit 731 leaders in exchange for information about their experiments. First-hand testimony about the unit has been slim.
All of the six men who appear in the book are letting their experiences be published for the first time, said Ryuji Takahashi, who gathered the reminiscences from men in Iwate.
One 72-year-old man, who refused to have his name published, says in the book that he witnessed unit members conduct many human vivisections.
“Just one time, I inserted a scalpel into the chest of a prisoner who was still living,” the man said.
“Sometimes dissections were carried out without anesthesia while the subjects were still fully conscious. They would let out a horrible shriek but then fall silent right away,” he said.
The man had to return to Japan in 1943, at the height of the war, because he became infected by the germs being tested, Takahashi said.
Another Iwate man, 71-year-old Takeo Sano, said he witnessed experiments in contaminating water supplies.
“A military doctor put germs in a well. In a Mongol tent nearby, people were continually getting sick,” Sano said.
Takahashi said the men came come forward after seeing an exhibition about Unit 731 that traveled all over Japan during the past 18 months. The exhibit closes Sunday in Tokyo.