V.V. Agarkov – The general Yamada’s diary about the last days of captivity in the USSR is declassified

There’s nothing kept secret that will not come to light, but often it takes long years and even decades for revealing it. In case with General Otozo Yamada, the last commander in chief of the Kwangtung Army, it took over 56 years to reveal the truth.

What we mean is infamous piece of quite extensive wartime biography written by one of the best commanders of the Imperial Japanese Army – about his stay in the special prisoner-of-war camp № 48 in village Cherntsy, Lezhnevsky District, which is situated in almost 50 km from Suzdal, the gem of the Russian Golden Ring. A part of Manchuria conqueror’s personal notes, including diaries and post cards, which had been kept in safes of the USSR NKVD-KGB, has been declassified very recently, on August 9, 2012, 67 years after the beginning of the last large campaign of the Soviet Army in the Second World War called the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation (called in Russia “Strategic pincers”). Having been caught in these very “pincers”, the Kwangtung Army, once fierce and powerful, was totally destroyed, and almost 600 thousand soldiers and officers, including the headquarters and Yamada himself, were took prisoners. The prisoners were also the scientists of so-called Unit 731, the part of the Army conducting top-secret development of biological weapon near Harbin in China. The death factory was disguised as a usual military facility, but it was guarded intensively, and any planes were forbidden to fly over its territory. General Ishii, the head of Unit 731, managed to escape to Korea, then he returned to Japan, where he was discovered by American intelligence service. But Ishii, as well as some of his subordinate “doctors”-bacteriologists, escaped from the trial and spent almost 14 years in the USA, where he died in peaceful situation in 1959.

Yamada, on the contrary, with other army generals and “doctors” from Unit 731 was brought to Khabarovsk. In December, 1949, the Court-Martial of the Primorsky Military District sentenced the commander of the Kwangtung Army for 25 years of imprisonment in a forced labor camp “for managing the work of preparing biological warfare”. On March 12, 1950, Yamada was escorted to the special camp № 48 in Cherntsy.

The camp, built there for keeping captive senior commanding officers of Nazi Germany and its allies, was the largest in this category. Captive generals called it Voykovo, because the camp was opened in the former mansion-house, which in 1920s was turned into sanatorium for railway employees called in honour of Pyotr Voykov – a revolutionary and Lenin’s supporter. Preparation for accepting the first guest generals started in May 1943. According to the instructions from Moscow, the sanatorium was quickly surrounded by a high fence, and around it on both sides they ploughed up two-meter stripes and put a barbed wire. They repaired the main two-storied stone building with thick walls and other adjoining constructions, and also divided the camp into separate sectors – for generals and for utility company. The general sector occupied 38 rooms, in each there were from 3 to 12 people, depending on room space. Officers of the Soviet Army and NKVD employees, who spoke foreign languages, were sent to guard and work in the camp.

Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich Paulus was one of the first captives of the Cherntsy camp. He and the group of senior officers of the Wehrmacht 6th Army, which was surrounded and then surrendered near Stalingrad, were brought to Cherntsy on July 3, 1943. Before this the former Hitler’s favourite had to stay some time in Suzdal prison, which was situated at that period in the Monastery of Saint Euthymius, which, in turn, in 1992 was added to the list of World Heritage Sites of UNESCO. According to the data available, Paulus was treated more than good. He was often invited to hunting by I. Petrov, the head of one of the NKVD divisions; the generalfeldmarcschall’s health was cared for by skillful doctors and nurses. In summer 1944, after a group of German generals, among which there were Paulus’ colleagues, failed at the attempt on Hitler’s life, generalfeldmarschall joined the anti-Nazi League of German Officers. Soon after that he was moved to Moscow and in 1946 he was present at the Nuremberg Trials as a witness. In 1953, 63-year-old Paulus was sent to the GDR, where he was later released.

Paulus’ comparatively short stay in Cherntsy excluded the possibility of meeting his Japanese colleague Yamada. Commander in chief of the Kwangtung Army managed to return to the Land of the Rising Sun only in 1956 at the age of 75. Seventeen more Japanese military men were imprisoned together with Yamada in Cherntsy, and among them there was Zun Ushiroku, the commander of the third front line in Manchuria. Besides, military medical men (from colonel to common laboratory assistant), who participated in creating biological weapon, were also brought to Cherntsy.

Prince Fumitaka Konoe also spent several months imprisoned in the camp № 48. He was the member of imperial family, the elder son of the former Prime Minister of Japan. Prince Konoe was in the rank of lieutenant and before August 19, 1945, when he was captured, he commanded a troop of the third regiment of the heavy artillery. He was moved from the Vladimir Prison № 2 to the generals camp in Cherntsy on July 15, 1956. Two months before release, on October 29, 1956, prince died of major bleeding in the brain. Besides, three lieutenant generals of the Kwangtung Army also died in the camp № 48 due to different reasons. Major Tomio Karasava, doctor-bacteriologist, also died there, according to archive documents, he committed suicide on October 20, 1956. Konoe and three other generals were buried in Cherntsy village cemetery, later the soviet authorities allowed to exhume their bodies, which after cremation were delivered to Japan.

Final repatriation of the Japanese prisoners of war, who were kept in different camps around the USSR, was completed after signing the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration on October 19, 1956, and the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR “On early release of convicted Japanese citizens and their repatriation” in December of the same year. In the middle of December, 1956, 50 Japanese citizens, including almost 20 generals, were brought from Cherntsy to Moscow. Prior to sending them from the camp, they were given special rations and a full set of civilian clothes. According to the repatriates’ request, there was an excursion organized for them in Moscow, and in Khabarovsk the local authorities arranged a farewell party for the prisoners of war with concert and food and drinks.

On December 23, 1956, the last Japanese citizens were returned to the representatives of the Japanese Government in the Far Eastern port Nakhodka. Such was the end of the history of the Cherntsy’s camp № 48.

According to the documents, generals-prisoners were provided an extra ration, had a right to wear military suit and went to job only by their own will. Film shows were organized specially for them; they got books by order, besides they often received parcels. Some of the generals were keen on drawing, some learnt Russian, and wrote poems dedicated to the Russian nature. However, returning home prisoners didn’t have the right to take with them results of their activities and personal notes. As a rule, before leaving such works were confiscated just in case and then they were kept in the NKVD archives. Some of the Paulus’ paintings later found its way into the museum of the Cherntsy secondary school. In the beginning of August 2012 the Ivanovo research library and the State Archive of the Ivanovo Oblast for the first time presented unique documents – personal letters, haiku – Japanese tercet, Yamada’s diary of the last ten days of his stay in the USSR, from May 17 to 27, 1956. There the commander, having his penalty removed and having been released earlier, showed his care about his colleagues left in the camp, expressed “deep gratitude to all the camp’s staff, including the NKVD guards, for the warm care and help”, and for “tender, equal to that of relatives, treatment” when he had been ill. General Yamada safely returned home in Japan and died there on July 18, 1965, in the age of 83.

The camp’s building of red brick for generals has by now turned into ruins, but the building in Cherntsy still can be restored. There’s a new boarding school near it, and now groups of pupils and their teachers are walking along the lime alleys, along which, according to the words of old residents, generals in German and Japanese suits liked to walk. “These limes, planted around the manor house, are over hundred year old, – local resident Victor told, pointing at the gloomy building. – We know, that captive generals were kept here”. He is convinced, that “the camp’s basements and the nearby river’s bank were connected with some secret subway”.

Today the main reminder of German and Japanese generals’ stay in Cherntsy is the village cemetery. Dead captives were buried in the separate section in different years, what is confirmed by laconic inscriptions on the concrete tombstones. The graveyard with high iron cross is surrounded by a metal fence. One more, bigger cemetery is situated in the outskirts of the regional center Lezhnevo, where 444 German, Japanese, Italian, Hungarian and Rumanian officers were buried. According to its appearance, this cemetery has been renewed very recently with the participation of the German War Graves Commission. Near the cemetery entrance there were fixed several plates with the lists of the dead and the memorial of gray stone with the inscription on it saying “remember them and the victims of all wars”.

For the natives – front-line veterans and participants of terrible events of those years there’s a simple white obelisk built in their honour near Cherntsy entrance not far from the old church. “Nothing is forgotten, nobody is forgotten!” – the memorial inscription says.

Cherntsy – Suzdal – Moscow


Translated by Naydish Darya, APIR Center

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