“Russian entry is prohibited.” Camp No. 16 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Khabarovsk Territory. Nuances and details of the repatriation of Japanese prisoners of war in 1956

Dorokhov Vyacheslav Zhorzhovich, the deputy chief of faculty of socially-humanitarian and economic disciplines of Far Eastern Law Institute Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, the PhD in Historical sciences, docent. Russia, Khabarovsk

Abstract. With the surrender of Japan, more than half a million soldiers of the Kwantung Army were captured by the Red Army. Many special camps for the detention of Japanese prisoners of war were established throughout the country. During 1946-1950, most of the prisoners were returned to their homeland by the good will of the Soviet government. However, until 1956, more than 1.5 thousand convicted Japanese citizens remained in two camps, in the Khabarovsk Territory and the Ivanovo Region, whose return was strictly conditioned by the readiness of the Japanese government to conclude a peace treaty. The history of the Japanese repatriation could be successfully completed only in 1956 with the conclusion of the Soviet-Japanese Declaration in Moscow.


Keywords. USSR, Japan, prisoners of war, repatriation, camp No. 16, 48, Khabarovsk incident, espionage, Soviet-Japanese Declaration.


As a result of the military operation in Manchuria, successfully carried out from the 9th to the 20th of August, 1945, most of the personnel of the Kwantung Army were captured by the Red Army. The prisoners of war were soon transported to special camps of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) of the USSR. According to the data from the 8th December, 1945, there were 608,360 Japanese prisoners of war in the country, including 158 generals and 18,068 officers. [5, л.17]

The entire mass of prisoners of war was evenly spread over Khabarovsk , Primorsky, Altai and Krasnoyarsk krai, the Irkutsk and Chita regions, the Buryat-Mongolian, Kazakh and Uzbek Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) and a number of other territories of the Central European part of the USSR. [4, Д.143. л. 190-191]

In the Khabarovsk krai, the 12 camps of the NKVD of the USSR were organized for 141,374 Japanese prisoners of war and object No. 45 for the detention of captured generals and the Emperor of Manchukuo with his retinue. [1, L.2] Basically, the camps were located near the major cities of the krai. So, in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, 59,360 people were held in three camps No. 1, 5, 18, and another 24,138 Japanese were placed in 50 km away from Komsomolsk-on-Amur to settlement Izvestkovy in camp No.4, 9,981 people were in Khabarovsk city in camp No. 16 and 215 people were at facility No. 45, etc.. [6, Оп.01е. Д.40 л. 5-5об.]

However, most of the captured Japanese did not have to experience the charms of the Russian climate for a long time. During 1946-1950, more than 510 thousand prisoners of war returned to their homeland in Japan. Almost everyone!

There are only a few left in the USSR, those who, as noted in the TASS report of the 22d April, 1950, were convicted or are under investigation for war crimes committed by them. Those counted 1,487 people. Another 9 Japanese prisoners of war were subject to repatriation after treatment, and 971 people who committed serious crimes against the Chinese  were planned to be transferred to the  People’s Republic of China (PRC). [3]

Due to the mass repatriation, most of the previously established camps were closed in the country. Thus, in the Khabarovsk krai, out of the12 operating camps by 1950, only one remained, No. 16 near Khabarovsk, which actually served as a transit point for repatriated Japanese until 1956.

The San Francisco Peace Treaty of the 8th September, 1951, in which the interests of the USSR were not taken into account, it had a negative impact on the fate of Japanese prisoners of war, whose repatriation was immediately suspended.

Only after the beginning of a new diplomatic round of Soviet-Japanese negotiations in June 1955, held in London, the USSR was again returned to the issue of repatriation, but the intransigence of the Japanese delegation in the territorial issue in September led to the interruption of the negotiation process, which postponed the problem of repatriation again.

By this time, according to the information of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR, all Japanese prisoners of war, who were now called “convicted Japanese citizens” in official documents, were placed in two camps of the country: camp No. 16 near Khabarovsk, and camp No. 48 in the village of Cherntsy in the Lezhnevsky district of the Ivanovo region. [4, Д. 464. л. 8.]

The breakdown of the negotiations led to extremely unexpected consequences, which received the name “Khabarovsk incident” in foreign mass media.

It all started with the arrival of a delegation of Japanese parliamentarians who visited camp No. 16 near Khabarovsk on the 29th of September, 1955, where by that time there were 1109 Japanese, including 2 generals, 1 admiral and 183 civilians. [6, Оп. 5. Д. 10. л. 226-229.]

In general, the delegation had  a greatly favorable impression about the conditions of detention, but assessing the events that took place in the camp a few months later, it is obvious that the parliamentarians ‘ conversations with the prisoners of war were conducted not only on abstract topics, evidently, they offered the prisoners some kind of  plan for how to accelerate the repatriation.

On the 19th December, 1955, 2.5 months after the departure of the Japanese delegation, 760 former Japanese prisoners of war went on strike. In order not to find a connection with the course of diplomatic negotiations, the prisoners’ demands were related exclusively to everyday problems – “better treatment”. As one of the participants, Shiro Yamada, remembered, ” In order to improve the treatment, we put up a 10-point requirement.”[2, D. 26. l. 115.] Since the Soviet administration did not react to this in any way, the strike dragged on until March 1956. during that time, several hundred petitions were handed over to the Soviet authorities. Seeing the futility of their demands, 500 prisoners went on a hunger strike on the 2d April, 1956, closed the doors to the barracks – posting an ad – “Russian entry is prohibited”.

As a rule, if no one knew about the events that had taken place in camp No. 16 in the USSR, thus, it would be widely publicized in the Japanese mass media under the name “Khabarovsk incident”.

The local leadership, understanding the political background of the problem, were afraid to solve it. Therefore, the first Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of the USSR, Colonel of the Internal Service V. P. Petushkov, who was well – versed in local realities, arrived in the Far East (from 1939 to 1944 he served in various positions in the system of the Corrective Labour Establishment (ITU) of the Far East).

By his order, on the 9th April, at 5 am, soldiers of the internal troops entered camp No. 16 from four sides. Petushkov, under the threat of force, conducted negotiations with Japanese representatives, at which they immediately claimed that they were not going to violate the order, but only wanted to inform Moscow about the bad treatment of them here.

In the end, the Japanese, having received the necessary assurances from the colonel, ended the strike and from the 17th April began to obey the established procedures. On what the “Khabarovsk incident” was finished.

Distinctively, all this took place against the background of the Soviet-Japanese consultations that unfolded in February-March 1956, which led to the decision to continue negotiations in Moscow.

Showing the Japanese their desire for peace, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, by its Decree of the 12th July, 1956 “On the early release of Japanese citizens”, launched the long-stalled work on repatriation.

On 21st of July, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Khabarovsk Territory had already received an instruction to prepare for the repatriation of the first batch of prisoners from 80 people. [2, Д. 21. л. 95.]

While the preparatory work was underway, it turned out that 117 people would have to be sent instead of the planned 80, since 23 more prisoners had to be released ahead of schedule due to illness, and 13 who had already served their sentence.

All the repatriated were given a settlement for their many years of forced labor, money and valuables stored. They bought bonds of state loans of the USSR from them (it turns out that prisoners of war gave their “voluntary” loan to the Soviet country), they were equipped

Providing leisure, the repatriates were shown feature films, given the opportunity to gather berries and mushrooms in the forest in groups, and were taken to the Japanese cemetery in Khabarovsk. One group even made a tour of Khabarovsk, with a visit to the local lore museum.

On 13th August, 1956, all the Japanese were sent by train to Nakhodka. The meeting was organized at a high level, it began with a meeting of prisoners of war with the local Commissioner of the Executive Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society of the USSR, after which a farewell dinner was organized for the Japanese before boarding the arriving ship “Koan-Maru”.

Having finished with this party in September 1956, the Main Directorate of Camps and Places of Incarceration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Khabarovsk Territory launched preparations for the repatriation of a new group of 29 Japanese, and also prepared documents for the release of 169 more people from prison. [2, D. 26. l. 132.]

However, while preparations were underway in the Far East, in October 1956, a compromise was finally found at the Soviet-Japanese negotiations in Moscow and a Joint Declaration was adopted that ended the state of war between the USSR and Japan. It is important that in this document, among other things, paragraph 5 also spelled out the USSR’s obligation to release all convicted Japanese citizens.

According to the text of the document, “peace and good-neighborly friendly relations are restored between them” [7] only after its entry into force, i.e. after ratification, so Japanese citizens serving sentences in the USSR had to wait a little longer.

On 8th December, 1956, the Joint Declaration was ratified by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the Parliament of Japan, and only after that, on 13th December, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, by its Decree No. 528 “On amnesty for Japanese citizens convicted in the Soviet Union”, announced that” in connection with the cessation of the state of war and the establishment of peaceful relations between the Union of Soviets”, all convicted Japanese citizens are released from prison and return to their homeland.[9]

It is interesting that even 4 days before the Decree on 9th December, 50 Japanese citizens left Moscow for Khabarovsk by train No. 16, including 21 generals of the former Kwantung Army, while they were no longer planned to place them in camp No. 16. By order of the Minister of Internal Affairs of the USSR N. P. Dudorov, rooms were booked for them in hotels in Khabarovsk. Moreover, on 11th December, a representative of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, Colonel Nikonorov, set out by plane to Khabarovsk to meet and accommodate the Japanese.[2, Д. 21. л. 168]

The meeting with high-ranking Japanese prisoners of war was held in a warm and friendly atmosphere, to which, in addition to the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Khabarovsk Territory, representatives of the Ministry of Defense also came. In his parting words, Colonel Nikonorov noted that their early release took place solely due to the successful negotiations between the USSR and Japan.

On the 23d December, 1956, the last group of former Japanese citizens in 1025 people, including 21 generals, left Nakhodka for their homeland in Japan.[10] At the same time, not all the repatriates were prisoners of war, so according to the Memorandum of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR dated the 25th November, 1956, they also included 222 civilians convicted of violating territorial waters and illegal fishing in the waters of the USSR.[4, Д. 482. л. 127-128.]

Among those who left the USSR among the last, there were two categories of prisoners of war. The first group included generals and officers who, due to their age, could join the ranks of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in case of early release, which the Soviet leadership did not want in any way. The second category includes prisoners of war who are openly negative against the Soviet government, who did not go to any cooperation with the local administration.

They stood out very much from the general mass of prisoners of war, whom their colleagues in misfortune characterized very sharply, calling them ” revanchist-minded officers and gendarmes of the former Kwantung army.”[2, Д. 21. л. 100.]

Such “persistent” fighters against the Soviet government were usually brought under Article 58, paragraph 6 of the Criminal Code of the USSR of 1926 – “Espionage”, giving maximum terms of imprisonment of 20-25 years.[4, D. 482. l. 12]

Surprisingly, and this will certainly go down in the history of jurisprudence, but prisoners of war who were placed in the camps of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs were charged with transmitting information to foreign states and private individuals. As indicated in the text of article 58 – “… being a specially protected state secret in their content” or ” economic information that does not constitute a specially protected state secret in its content, but is not subject to disclosure by direct prohibition of the law or by order of the heads of departments, institutions and enterprises…”.

In rare cases, article 58, paragraph 4, was applied – ” Rendering assistance in any way to that part of the international bourgeoisie that, without recognizing the equality of the communist system that is replacing the capitalist system, seeks to overthrow it, as well as to social groups and organizations that are under the influence or directly organized by this bourgeoisie in carrying out activities hostile to the USSR…”.[8]

In December 1956, despite the fact that the territorial problem between the USSR and Japan remained unresolved, nevertheless, it was finally and irrevocably resolved a very important issue for the Japanese public – to return to their homeland all Japanese citizens who were captured. At the same time, “thanks” to the work of the Soviet law enforcement system, the most loyal, “revanchist-minded” soldiers and officers of the defeated Imperial Japanese Army were the last to return home.

Source: Вестник ЦИМО в АТР. № 6. 2021

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