A group of Japanese scholars is set to reveal the names of the members of a Japanese second world war germ warfare unit that infected and starved Chinese and allied POWs in a series of gruesome experiments.
Katsuo Nishiyama, professor emeritus of Shiga University of Medical Science, told reporters: “It is the first time that almost all the real names of the unit’s members have been unveiled. We will post them on the website so they can be utilised for research.”
The list dated January 1, 1945, includes the names and ranks as well as personal information such as addresses and family members of 52 surgeons, 49 engineers, 38 nurses and 1,117 combat medics, mainly those attached to the headquarters of the unit, officially known as the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army.
The unit, established in 1936 for the purpose of developing biological weapons, conducted research mostly using Chinese and Koreans arrested on espionage charges.
The research included infecting prisoners with germs before performing vivisections on them and deliberately causing frostbite to observe the process of necrosis.
A request to disclose the list was first filed in 2015. Initially, the released list was mostly blacked out but almost all the names and ranks were declassified in January following negotiations, although the personal information of some people was still excluded.
A group led by Nishiyama plans to urge Kyoto University to determine the legitimacy of a university degree conferred on an army medical officer of the unit, arguing his dissertation may have been based on experiments on living people.
The group has been collecting signatures to back its request.
Unit 731 was involved in research into more than 20 types of bacteria including anthrax, smallpox and botulinum, and about 3,000 people worked at its headquarters in the suburbs of Harbin in Manchuria. Historians believe thousands died in the human experiments.
The history of the unit had long been concealed. The unit’s commander, Lieutenant General Shiro Ishii, and others received immunity from prosecution by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East after giving the United States the data collected by the unit on germ warfare.
The Kwantung Army was part of the Imperial Japanese Army stationed in northeastern China, which was under Japanese control.
Japan, unlike Germany, has been widely accused of failing fully to face up to its wartime atrocities.
The Japanese government denied the existence of the unit until 1998, when the Supreme Court indirectly acknowledged it by ruling there was an academic consensus that Unit 731 existed.
The subject is not widely taught in schools, and comments by conservative politicians glossing over the issue regularly anger other Asian nations which were the victims of occupation.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse