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Nurse Breaks Silence, Reveals WWII Atrocity
TOKYO (Sept. 16) - The Toyama No. 5 apartment block is quiet at midday -
laundry flapping from balconies, old people taking an after-lunch stroll. But
the building and its nearby park may be sitting on a gruesome World War II
A wartime nurse has broken more than 60 years of silence to reveal her part
in burying dozens, perhaps hundreds, of bodies there as American forces
occupied the Japanese capital.
The way experts see it, these were no ordinary casualties of war, but
possible victims of Tokyo's shadowy wartime experiments on live prisoners of war -
an atrocity that has never been officially recognized by the Japanese
government, but is well documented by historians and participants.
The neighborhood on the west side of Tokyo is deeply troubled.
"I feel sorry for remains with such a sad history," said Teppei Kuroda, a
college senior who lives there. "I think they should be dug up and mourned
Their first burial was anything but dignified.
Former nurse Toyo Ishii says that during the weeks following Japan's
surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, she and colleagues at an army hospital at the site were
ordered to bury corpses, bones and body parts - she doesn't know how many -
before the Americans arrived.
A mass grave of between 62 and more than 100 possible war-experiment victims
was uncovered in a nearby area in 1989. But Ishii's account - publicly
released in June - could yield a far larger number and a firmer connection to Unit
731, Japan's dreaded germ and biological warfare outfit.
"If the bones are actually there, they are likely related to Unit 731
itself, because the facility that used to stand in that part of the compound was
closely linked to the unit," said Keiichi Tsuneishi, a Kanagawa University
history professor and expert on Japan's wartime biological warfare.
Ishii's disclosure led to a face-to-face meeting with Health Minister Jiro
Kawasaki and a government pledge to investigate. But it may be a long time
before anything is confirmed. Health Ministry official Jiro Yashiki rules out a
"People still live there and we can't visit each family to remind them of
the bones ... just imagine how they feel about it," he said. "What if we find
nothing after all the trouble?"
The 84-year-old nurse's story is the latest twist in the legacy of Japan's
rampage through Asia in the 1930s and '40s.
From its base in Japan-controlled Harbin, China, Unit 731 and related units
injected war prisoners with typhus, cholera and other diseases as research
into germ warfare, according to historians and former unit members. Unit 731
also is believed to have performed vivisections and frozen prisoners to death
in endurance tests.
The 1989 find, during construction of a Health Ministry research institute
at the former army medical school site in Tokyo, revealed dozens of fragmented
thigh bones and skulls, some with holes drilled in them or sections cut out.
Police denied any evidence of a crime, and the bones were not properly
analyzed until two years later.
In 2001, the Health Ministry concluded that the remains - many of them of
non-Japanese Asians - were most likely from bodies used in "medical education"
or brought back from the war zone for analysis at the medical school.
The ministry said the bones could not be directly linked to Unit 731, though
it acknowledged that some interviewees had suggested they were shipped from
Manchuria, northern China, where the unit was based.
In 2002, the Health Ministry built a memorial repository for the bones. But
it has refused repeated requests for DNA tests from relatives of several
Chinese believed to have perished in Unit 731.
Ishii says she was never involved in nor knew about experiments on humans.
Her account dwells on the final chapter of the war and the rush to conceal it.
In an interview at her Tokyo home, she said she was assigned to the
hospital's oral surgery department in 1944.
She said the hospital had three morgues, where bodies with numbered tags
around their necks floated in a formalin-filled pool, awaiting dissection. Body
parts were preserved in bottles.
After the surrender, workers piled the bodies and bottles in carts and
brought them to empty lots in the compound, she said.
"We took the samples out of the glass containers and dumped them into the
hole," she wrote in a statement to the government in June. "We were going to be
in trouble, I was told, if American soldiers asked us about the specimens."
She said a hospital official told her years later that a public housing
complex for the families of senior doctors and hospital officials, including
himself, was built at the site to cover up the mass grave. That complex was later
replaced by Toyama No. 5.
Toyo Ishii, 84, revealed her role in burying dozens, perhaps hundreds, of
possible victims of Japan's wartime experiments on live prisoners of war in