Unit 731 General Facts
Most of us heard about the horrible experiments on humans of the Nazis done by doctor Mengele. But the Nazis weren’t alone in conducting cruel experiments on humans.
One of the lesser known atrocities of the 20th century was committed by the Imperial Japanese Army’s Unit 731. Some of the details of this unit’s activities are still uncovered. This webpage was set up to collect and organize the information known to date about Unit 731 and present it to anyone interested.
For 40 years, the horrific activities of "Unit 731" remained one the most closely guarded secrets of World War II. It was not until 1984 that Japan acknowledged what it had long denied - vile experiments on humans conducted by the unit in preparation for germ warfare.
Deliberately infected with plague, anthrax, cholera and other pathogens, an estimated 3,000 of enemy soldiers and civilians were used as guinea pigs. Some of the more horrific experiments included vivisection without anesthesia and pressure chambers to see how much a human could take before his eyes popped out.
Unit 731 was set up in 1938 in Japanese-occupied China with the aim of developing biological weapons. It also operated a secret research and experimental school in Shinjuku, central Tokyo. Its head was Lieutenant Shiro Ishii.
The unit was supported by Japanese universities and medical schools which supplied doctors and research staff. The picture now emerging about its activities is horrifying. According to reports never officially admitted by the Japanese authorities, the unit used thousands of Chinese and other Asian civilians and wartime prisoners as human guinea pigs to breed and develop killer diseases.
Many of the prisoners, who were murdered in the name of research, were used in hideous vivisection and other medical experiments, including barbaric trials to determine the effect of frostbite on the human body.
To ease the conscience of those involved, the prisoners were referred to not as people or patients but as "Maruta", or wooden logs. Before Japan’s surrender, the site of the experiments was completely destroyed, so that no evidence is left.
Then, the remaining 400 prisoners were shot and employees of the unit had to swear secrecy. The mice kept in the laboratory were then released, which could have cost the lives of 30,000 people, since the mice were infected with the bubonic plague, and they spread the disease.
Few of those involved with Unit 731 have admitted their guilt.
Some caught in China at the end of the war were arrested and detained, but only a handful of them were prosecuted for war crimes.
In Japan, not one was brought to justice. In a secret deal, the post-war American administration gave them immunity for prosecution in return for details of their experiments.
Some of the worst criminals, including Hisato Yoshimura, who was in charge of the frostbite experiments, went on to occupy key medical and other posts in public and private sectors.
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: March 17, 1995
He is a cheerful old farmer who jokes as he serves rice cakes made by his wife, and then he switches easily to explaining what it is like to cut open a 30-year-old man who is tied naked to a bed and dissect him alive, without anesthetic.
"The fellow knew that it was over for him, and so he didn't struggle when they led him into the room and tied him down," recalled the 72-year-old farmer, then a medical assistant in a Japanese Army unit in China in World War II. "But when I picked up the scalpel, that's when he began screaming.
"I cut him open from the chest to the stomach, and he screamed terribly, and his face was all twisted in agony. He made this unimaginable sound, he was screaming so horribly. But then finally he stopped. This was all in a day's work for the surgeons, but it really left an impression on me because it was my first time."
Finally the old man, who insisted on anonymity, explained the reason for the vivisection. The Chinese prisoner had been deliberately infected with the plague as part of a research project -- the full horror of which is only now emerging -- to develop plague bombs for use in World War II. After infecting him, the researchers decided to cut him open to see what the disease does to a man's inside. No anesthetic was used, he said, out of concern that it might have an effect on the results.
But the Unit was not only infamous for its vivisections. Some prisoners sent to Unit 731 were taken outside and tied to stakes. The Japanese would then test new biological weapons such as plague cultures or bombs filled with plague-infested fleas on them.
Other studies involved exposing human guinea pigs, called 'logs' by the Japanese scientists, to their limits. Humans were locked inside pressure chambers to test how much the body could take before their eyes popped out.
Some human test subjects were taken outside during the harsh winter until their limbs froze off for the doctors to experiment how best to treat frostbite.