Skip to main content
A World War II-era Japanese tank on Russia’s Sakhalin Island.

Scientists discover that repatriated remains of Japanese POWs who died in Soviet camps probably aren't actually Japanese

Source: NHK
A World War II-era Japanese tank on Russia’s Sakhalin Island.
A World War II-era Japanese tank on Russia’s Sakhalin Island.
Sergey Fadeichev / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

In recent years, the Russian government has transferred the remains of 597 Japanese prisoners of war who died in Soviet labor camps back to Japan. Now, NHK reported, it has become clear that those remains are unlikely to belong to Japanese soldiers at all.

After the end of the Second World War, it is estimated that 560,000 to 760,000 Japanese soldiers remained in Soviet prison camps. They had fought on Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands as well as on Chinese and Korean territory. The Soviet government transferred the soldiers to labor camps, where tens of thousands of them died. The repatriation of surviving Japanese POWs from the Soviet Union was only completed in 1956. The remains of deceased soldiers have been transferred to Japan over the course of the past 20 years from 126 burial sites in far eastern Russia.

NHK wrote that Japanese experts have doubted the authenticity of the remains for several years but have only now begun to voice those concerns publicly. Japan’s government had not previously informed its Russian partners of its suspicions, and it has not expressed an intention to return the bodies back to Russia.

Japanese government officials indicated that their conclusions about the origins of the remains have not yet been finalized pending further DNA testing. So far, official DNA tests for 19 of the bodies returned have demonstrated that their owners were not Japanese.

TASS noted that the question of whether the repatriated remains actually belonged to Japanese soldiers became a subject of widespread speculation in Japan about a year ago. At the time, a group of Japanese public television journalists had conducted an investigation at one of the burial sites included in the repatriation program. They discovered that Japanese prisoners of war had likely been buried in a cemetery that also housed deceased local residents. 

Meduza is working for you And we need your support