Khabarovsk War Crime Trials

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The Khabarovsk War Crime Trials were hearings held between 25–31 December 1949, in the Soviet Union's industrial city of Khabarovsk (Хаба́ровск), the largest city within the Russian Far East (Дáльний Востóк) adjacent to Japan. There, twelve members of the Japanese Kwantung Army were tried as war criminals for manufacturing and using biological weapons during World War II.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Khabarovsk City in Khabarovsk Krai, Russia

Khabarovsk is the largest city and the administrative center of Khabarovsk Krai, Russia, located 30 kilometers (19 mi) from the Chinese border, at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri Rivers, about 800 kilometers (500 mi) north of Vladivostok. The city was the administrative center of the Far Eastern Federal District of Russia from 2002 until December 2018, when Vladivostok took over that role. It is the second largest city in the Russian Far East, after Vladivostok. As of the 2010 Census, its population was 577,441. It was previously known as Khabarovka. Khabarovsk is the closest major city to Birobidzhan, which is a town and the administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.

Russian Far East Geographic region

The Russian Far East comprises the Russian part of the Far East, the eastermost territory of Russia, between Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean.



During the trials, the accused, such as Major General Kiyoshi Kawashima, testified that, as early as 1941, some 40 members of Unit 731 air-dropped plague-contaminated fleas on Changde. These operations caused epidemic plague outbreaks. [1]

Unit 731 biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army

Unit 731 was a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) of World War II. It was responsible for some of the most notorious war crimes carried out by Imperial Japan. Unit 731 was based at the Pingfang district of Harbin, the largest city in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo.

Plague (disease) contagious and frequently fatal human disease

Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Symptoms include fever, weakness and headache. Usually this begins one to seven days after exposure. In the bubonic form there is also swelling of lymph nodes, while in the septicemic form tissues may turn black and die, and in the pneumonic form shortness of breath, cough and chest pain may occur.

Changde Prefecture-level city in Hunan, Peoples Republic of China

Changde is a prefecture-level city in the northwest of Hunan province, People's Republic of China, with a population of 5,717,218 as of the 2010 census, of which 1,232,182 reside in the built-up area (metro) made of 2 urban districts of Dingcheng and Wuling. In addition to the urban districts, Changde also administers the county-level city of Jinshi and six counties. Changde is adjacent to Dongting Lake to the east, the city of Yiyang to the south, Wuling and Xuefeng Mountains to the west, and Hubei province to the north.

All twelve accused war criminals were found guilty, and sentenced to terms ranging between two and twenty-five years in a labour camp. In 1956, those who were still serving their sentence were released and repatriated to Japan.

In 1950, the USSR published official materials relating to the trial in English. The book was titled Materials on the Trial of Former Servicemen of the Japanese Army Charged with Manufacturing and Employing Bacteriological Weapons. [2] It included documents from the preliminary investigation (the Indictment, some documentary evidence, and some interrogation records), testimony from both the accused and witnesses, last pleas from the accused, some expert findings, and speeches from the State Prosecutor and Defense Counsel, verbatim.

The book, published by Foreign Languages Publishing House, had long been out of print, but in November 2015 Google Books determined it was now in the public domain and published a facsimile of it online, in addition to offering it for sale as an ebook. [2]

Foreign Languages Publishing House (Soviet Union)

The Foreign Languages Publishing House was a state-run publisher in the Soviet Union that published Russian literature, novels, propaganda, and books about the USSR in foreign languages. These included works by Lenin and Stalin. It was headquartered in Moscow at 21 Zubovsky Boulevard. It was founded in 1946, and in 1964 it was split into separate publishers Progress and Mir.

Google Books service from Google

Google Books is a service from Google Inc. that searches the full text of books and magazines that Google has scanned, converted to text using optical character recognition (OCR), and stored in its digital database. Books are provided either by publishers and authors, through the Google Books Partner Program, or by Google's library partners, through the Library Project. Additionally, Google has partnered with a number of magazine publishers to digitize their archives.

According to one bioethics expert,

Despite its strong ideological tone and many obvious shortcomings such as the lack of international participation, the trial established beyond reasonable doubt that the Japanese army had prepared and deployed bacteriological weapons and that Japanese researchers had conducted cruel experiments on living human beings. However, the trial, together with the evidence presented to the court and its major findings — which have proved remarkably accurate — was dismissed as communist propaganda and totally ignored in the West until the 1980s. [3]

Historian Sheldon Harris described the trial in his history of Unit 731:

Evidence introduced during the hearings was based on eighteen volumes of interrogations and documentary material gathered in investigations over the previous four years. Some of the volumes included more than four hundred pages of depositions.... Unlike the Moscow Show Trials of the 1930s, the Japanese confessions made in the Khabarovsk trial were based on fact and not the fantasy of their handlers. [4]

Harris also noted the controversies unleashed by the trial, which linked Emperor Hirohito to the Japanese biological warfare program, and also the allegations that the Japanese BW experiments had also been conducted on Allied POWs.

One of the experts by Soviet prosecutors during the trial, N. N. Zhukov-Verezhnikov, later served on the panel of scientists, led by Joseph Needham, that investigated Chinese and North Korean allegations of biological warfare in the Korean War, conducted by the United States. [5]

Accused and their sentences

See also


  1. Daniel Barenblatt, A Plague upon Humanity, HarperCollins, 2004, pp. 220-221.
  2. 1 2 'Materials on the Trial of Former Servicemen of the Japanese Army Charged with Manufacturing and Employing Bacteriological Weapons, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1950
  3. Jing-Bao Nie, "The West's Dismissal of the Khabarovsk trial as "Communist Propaganda": Ideology, evidence and international bioethics," in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, April 2004, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 32-42.
  4. Sheldon H. Harris, "Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932–1945, and the American Cover-up (rev. ed)", Routledge, 2002, p. 318.
  5. G. Cameron Hurst III, "Biological Weapons: The United States and the Korean War," in "Dark Medicine: Rationalizing Unethical Medical Research" (eds. William R. LaFleur, Susumu Shimazono), Indiana University Press, 2008, pp. 105-120

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