1936–1945: Unit 731 — the Asian Auschwitz

1936–1945: Unit 731 — the Asian Auschwitz — was a massive biological warfare research program of the Japanese Imperial Army under the command of Lt. General Dr. Ishii Shiro in Pin Fang, Manchuria outside the city of Harbin. Its true purpose was masked as the Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory. Unit 731 was housed within 150 buildings with a staff of 3,000. It included an aerodrome, railway line, barracks, dungeons, laboratories, operating rooms, crematoria, cinema, bar and Shinto temple. Its barbarous inhumane experiments rivalled the infamous Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, though the numbers of prisoners were smaller, it operated for a much longer period. From 1936 to 1942 between 3,000 and 12,000 men, women and children were subjected to unspeakable diabolical experiments, vivisected while still alive, before they were slaughtered in Unit 731. (C. Hudson, Doctors of Depravity, 2007; Nightmare in Manchuria, 2012; Unit 731)

Shiro Ishii’s extensive deadly human experiments were under the protection of the Kanto Army High Command, the Kampeitei (secret Japanese police), and local police collaborators. His first laboratories were in the city of Harbin, later in Beiyinhe, and still later in an extraordinary facility in Harbin’s suburb known as Ping Fang.  Construction began in 1936, and was completed in 1939. Originally named Togo, later changed to Ishii Unit, finally it was named Unit 731; it was the world’s largest premier biological and chemical warfare research center.

“Each year hundreds of prisoners were fodder for fiendish experiments.  They were exposed to every known disease.  These ranged from anthrax to yellow fever.  Some were used for hyperthermia experiments.  Others were forced to endure gangrene experiments; and still others were forced to engage in sexual intercourse with individuals known to be infected with venereal diseases. They were then monitored as the disease took its toll on the victims.”

“The victims were captured communist partisans, ordinary criminals, political dissidents, those who were mentally handicapped but physically fit, and, when candidates among these groups were scarce, the secret police would pick up the poor, the homeless, off the streets in cities throughout occupied China and Manchuria.  The police would be given orders to send prisoners to Harbin/Ping Fan by “Special Delivery.”

“Everyone engaged in this sordid business understood that “Special Delivery” was the code words for new human experimental prey.  Prisoners to be tested were of various nationalities.  The overwhelming majority were Han Chinese.  However, Koreans, Soviet prisoners of varying ethnic backgrounds, and, occasionally, Europeans and Americans were used.”

“Victims were frequently vivisected while still living.  They were not given an anesthesia since Ishii and his colleagues wanted to be certain that their tests were not influenced by an outside source.  Those individuals whose experiments required a course of study usually lasted about six weeks.  Then, of no longer any value to the researchers, they were “sacrificed”, the euphemism used instead of “killed.”  The bodies, men, women, and children, would then be dissected by pathologists, and, eventually, deposited in either large burial pits or burned in the three crematoria housed at Ping Fan.” (Sheldon Harris. Japanese Medical Atrocities in WWII: Unit 731 Was Not An Isolated Aberration.” A paper read at the International Citizens Forum on War Crimes & Redress, Tokyo, Dec. 11, 1999)

Unit 731 was divided into eight divisions: Division 1: Research on bubonic plague, cholera, anthrax, typhoid and tuberculosis using live human subjects in a prison was constructed to contain around 300 to 400 people. Division 2: Research for biological weapons used in the field, in particular the production of devices to spread germs and parasites. Shiro Ishii, the mastermind behind Japan’s biological warfare — “Factories of Death” — was a brash and flamboyantly corrupt man who considered himself a visionary” beyond scruples. He was brilliant, charming, intimidating, stone-hearted, driven to break new scientific ground and to help Japan defeat its foes. Ishii exhorted his team of physicians to violate the physicians’ ethical code:

“A doctor’s God-given mission is to challenge all varieties of disease-causing micro-organisms; to block all roads of intrusion into the human body; to annihilate all foreign matter resident in our bodies; and to devise the most expeditious treatment possible. . . However, the research we are now about to embark is the complete opposite of these principles, and may cause us some anguish as doctors.”

“We pursue this research,” he explained, “for the double medical thrill; as a scientist . . . probing to discover the truth in natural science; and as a military person, to build a powerful military weapon against the enemy.” (Patrick Fong. Impunity Of Japan’s Secret Biological Warfare Unit, 2000.)

Unspeakably cruel and ghoulish experiments were conducted by Japanese physicians who had been recruited from Japan’s leading academic medical institutions. Like their Nazi counterparts, Japan’s physicians perverted the essence of medicine. Doctors in the biological war program turned life – biology – against life.

They referred to the prisoners as Maruta (“logs” whose killing was comparable to cutting down a tree). Army surgeons conducted many vivisections “for training purposes” — in truth, to desensitize them. The victims were mostly Chinese — men, women, and children, including pregnant women and infants. Soviet, Australian and several American prisoners of war were also subjected to experiments designed to infect the victims with fatal diseases including: plague, cholera, tuberculosis, typhoid, tetanus, anthrax, typhus, hemorrhagic fever, and dysentery. See, list “medically usable specimens” (i.e., pathogens) compiled in a U.S. occupation report. The victims were then vivisected — many while still alive. Live vivisection was a Japanese “specialty.”

The experiments conducted at Unit 731 and its satellites can be classified into the following broad categories:
Vivisections for training new Army surgeons: These were performed at army hospitals in China using many Chinese prisoners. The doctors were trained to perform appendectomies and tracheotomies; prisoners were shot, then doctors removed the bullets from their bodies; they amputated their arms and legs and sewed up the skin around the wounds, and finally killed the prisoners. This surgical training program was to teach newly minted army surgeons how to treat wounded soldiers at the front lines. However, unlike normal medical training which teaches surgical skills while avoiding causing harm to patients, the training of these army doctors encourages causing needless harm and death. So, it has been suggested that training under Unit 731 supervision, was not required at all, but rather its main purpose was to desensitize the surgeons, rather than to perfect their surgical skills. (Takashi Tsuchiya. Why Japanese doctors performed human experiments in China 1933-1945Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics, 2000)

Intentional infecting with viruses and pathogens followed by vivisection either after death or vivisected to death. Doctors purposefully infected victims with diseases; victims would then be strapped down to an operating table and subjected to live autopsy without anesthesia. Some screamed in a non-human way when they realized their fate. Unit 731 “doctors” would cut them open to observe the progress of the germs incubating within them or to harvest organs that had enough germs to weaponize or spread on nearby villagers. They would amputate limbs to study blood loss and the effects of rotting and gangrene (some limbs were later attached to the other side of the body), parts of the stomach, liver, brains and lungs were often removed to observe the effects. The reason for live vivisection was to study the effect of the pathogens on live human organs and to avoid decomposition.

Germ warfare, male and female prisoners were injected with venereal diseases in the disguise of inoculations (or sometimes infected via rape) to determine the viability of germ warfare, victims were infested with fleas in order to communicate the disease to an organism which could be later dropped onto a populace. During one anthrax operation, the doctors noted the progress of the pathogen organ by organ. The victim’s suffering was unspeakable, with “his organs swelling, bleeding and disintegrating.” Fleas were also tainted with cholera, anthrax, and the bubonic plague, as well as, other plagues. This was the origin of the “flea bomb” which infected large geographic areas and polluted land and water. They were dropped in the guise of clothing and supplies which resulted in the estimated death of another 400,000–580,000 Chinese civilians. (Read more: China History Forum, 2005.)

Weapons testing, grenades, mortars and other explosive devices were detonated near living targets to determine the effects with regards to different distances and angles, so they could determine how long victims could survive with their sustained injuries; experiments to determine the ability of the human body to survive in the face of various pathogens and in conditions such as extreme cold; Chinese prisoners were exposed to mustard gas in a simulated battle situation; others were tied to stakes tests to determine the lethality of biological, and chemical weapons and other explosive material.

Physical endurance experiments, to determine the physical tolerance level of human beings. The experiments were designed to answer questions such as: how much air could be injected intravenously; how much poison gas could be inhaled; how much bleeding caused death; how many days prisoners could survive without food or water; how high electric current human beings could bear; air pressurized, oxygen deprivation experiments — same as those conducted in Nazi concentration camps; frostbite experiments where prisoners would lose entire limbs and suffer gangrene; forced sex between prisoners (most often one that was infected with a STD while the other was healthy). In other experiments victims were hung upside down to observe how long it took for one to die due to choking and the length of time until the onset of embolism occurred after inserting air into ones blood stream.
Read more: Unit 731

Nonstardized treatment tests and Sadistic what if? Experiments. Numerous experimental vaccines were tested on prisoners with no animal trials; Victims were hung upside down to observe how long it took for one to die due to choking; the length of time until the onset of embolism occurred after inserting air into ones blood stream; what would happen if horse serum got injected into the body of a human?

“Other experiments were conducted so the doctors could learn more about how humans live and die. These included studies of dehydration, starvation, frostbite, air pressure – some inmates had their eyes blown out – transfusions of animal blood to humans and others. Even children and babies were destroyed this way. Other ghoulish experiments included cutting off a prisoner’s hands and sewing them back on to the opposite arms to gauge what happened.” (China History Forum, 2005)