Niigata POW Camp Pictures and Video

Niigata Camp 5B in 1943.  Lt. Masato Yoshida, Commandant

Niigata City was the site of two POW Camps during the Second World War.  It was the first major influx of foreigners to Niigata in the history of the city.  I am currently collecting oral histories of ex-POWs from Camp 5B and 15B, and interviewing former camp guards and others who have memories of those days from a Japanese point-of-view. 

The following are pictures of Niigata 5B's more notorious commandants. 

The first commandant, Masato Yoshida, is seated holding the samurai sword. 

Lt. Yoshida was captured and jailed for numerous attrocities, the main ones being the murder of an American and Canadian POW by leaving them chained outside the guard house in winter, dressed only in underclothing.  He also stole Red Cross packages intended for POWs and distributed the food among the camp guards and friends.  Yoshida was never convicted for these crimes.  While awaiting trial, he became increasingly depressed and was sent to a high-security mental hospital. A few days later he committed suicide by hanging himself in his room.

Tetsutaro Kato was probably the most infamous commandant.  He was commander during the last days of the war, when increasing numbers of POWs were being transferred to Niigata after camps in Tokyo had been destroyed or made obsolete due to constant bombing.  He is remembered by former camp guards and prisoners alike as proud, harsh and brutal.  Below is a picture of Kato (back row, center) with his family as he was preparing to go to Keio University.

Kato's family was part of the elite class of Tokyo.  His father was religious philosopher and close friends with scholars, past prime ministers, and other influential members of society.  Below is a picture of Kato and his father after Kato has been commissioned in the Army, and preparing to fight in Manchuria.

Another picture of Kato at home before being tranferred to Niigata 5B.  People in the neighborhood remember that he had become a very heavy drinker following his return from China.  Despite the quality of the picture, it can be seen that he had gained quite a bit of weight. 

Kato was tried and found guilty of numerous beatings, which left a number of POWs permanently disabled, and was sentenced to death by hanging for the execution of the American POW Frank Spears.  Kato maintained until his dying days that he was under orders by his superiors to execute Spears, who had attempted to escape Camp 5B on several occasions.  The verdict was later overturned when Kato's family used their connections to gain access to Douglas MacArthur.  He commuted Katofs sentence to 20 years hard labor at Sugamo Prison.  However, after Sugamo Prison passed into Japanese administration in 1950, Kato was allowed to attend his father's funeral in 1951.  He was then released on good behavior in 1952.  Below is a picture of Kato meeting his family as he was released from Sugamo Prison.

The following picture is of the last commandant of Camp 5B, Lt. Ishikawa (Center, Dark Suit).  Some have mistakenly identified Ishikawa as Lt. Kato in this picture.  At the time, Ishikawa was ambiguous about his identity, and allowed photographers to think he was Kato in this picture.  Kato had already collected his belongings and had gone into hiding about a week before this photo had been taken. 

Most of the pictures here are of Niigata 5B and the Rinko Docks.  Very few records remain about Camp 15B, because the site was torn down almost immediately after the war.     

The sites of both Niigata 5B and 15B were verified by local Niigata historians and Toru Fukubayashi, a war historian in Kyoto.  This is a famous picture of Niigata 5B, taken in 1945 from a B-29 as it made a food drop for POWs.

War crimes investigators visited Camp 5B in the late autumn of 1945.  They took a few pictures of the stark, deserted camp. In my interview with Robert Groh, the first war crimes investigator to visit the camp, he remembers the squalor of the shacks. The walls of the shacks were covered in graffitti which depicted torture the POWs had received from camp guards. Groh began his work by tracking down the guards who had been implicated by this silent testimony.

This picture is taken from the vantage point of a small hill overlooking the camp towards the main gate.  The hill today is the site of a Japan Telecom Relay Tower.

This is an aerial photo taken in 1947.  The deserted camp still remains...

By 1995, all vestiges of the camp were gone.  The curve in the road is the only visible landmark.

The entire area today is now an older residential area.

This is the present site. For a map of the site, click here.

The following is a picture of Niigata 15B, taken near the end of the war:

This area is also a poor residential area.  The picture is taken from the vantage point of the pine forest across the road from the camp (in the 1945 picture)

Niigata 15B contained many Chinese slave laborers and POWs.  The survivors and their family sued the Rinko Corporation for damages.  Ifve taken a picture of the place where the Chinese prisoners were kept.  All of these are in the photo album. For a map to the Niigata 15B site, click here.

*  For the photo album of pictures of the current sites, click here.

*  For Video of Niigata 5B, click here.

*  For Video of Niigata 15B, click here.

*    For Video of the Rinko Docks where bombs and soybeans were loaded onto trains (the railway has been long replaced by a road), click here.

Many of the POWs that were at Niigata Camp 5B worked on Niigatafs docks, loading cargo from Taiwan, Korea and Northern China to support the war effort.  Below is a photo of Niigatafs West Port just before the War.

The area where the POWs worked was a dark, grim and dirty place.  Below is a photo of the dock area where the POWs worked during the war. 

Here is a picture of the Rinko Coal docks in the late 1930fs.  The area looked essentially the same when POWs were sent to Niigata to supplement labor which had been lost when most of the Japanese men had been sent off to war. 

Douglas Idlett, former POW #497 at Niigata Camp 5B, supplied these pictures of the docks where he and approximately 120 other POWs unloaded coal for the furnaces of Niigata Tetsu and pushed trams where they could be unloaded onto trains.  The following pictures were taken immediately after the war, and features Japanese laborers, but the pictures still show the work detail of those POWs who were on the coal-loading detail.   

First, the coal was loaded off of the ships mechanically into a large trestle.

The coal was then loaded into large cars, and pushed manually down a small railway.  This was sometimes so difficult for POWs, who were limited to a low calorie, low protein diet, that they set certain people along the tracks to help them along.  No guard rails or other safety devices were installed.  When the POWs did the work, there were times when POWs would slip and fall 20 feet to the shore below.

The coal was then dumped into a large pile, where it was loaded manually into train cars for shipment through out Niigata and Japan.

These pictures were taken by Douglas Idlett over ten years ago on a visit to the original Rinko docks where he worked, but the area essentially looks the same today.  For a map of the location of this site, click here.

The City of Niigata finally acknowledged the existence of the POW Camps in the mid 1990s.  A lonely monument in a small park across the harbor of the Rinko Docks stands in testimony not only to the hundreds of POWs who were sent to Niigata, but also the thousands of Koreans and Chinese who were also slave laborers in Niigata during the war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Here is a closeup of the monument.