[Traces of forced mobilization-part five] Remaining Korean war criminals struggle to find their way in society

Posted on : 2010-02-24 12:01 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Conscripted soldiers who were convicted of war crimes faced hardship following their release from prison with no place to go

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the forceful annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910. A number of issues, however, remain unresolved between South Korea and Japan. This is part five of the Hankyoreh‘s series about traces of history, which has been made in hopes that both countries are able to move together toward a brighter future after having resolved remaining issues concerning conscripted labor and other human rights issues.

Kim Seok-gi, 89, met with the reporting team amid some far-off chaos. Kim said, “We built a palm tree house. Didn’t I say to watch them since you have a sword? Oh my. That we do not know now. Since things have turned out this way, I do not know exactly.”

Kim, who seemed to be trying to explain something, closed his mouth as he frowned. What he was trying to convey could not be put into language, and the interview ended in this manner. His wife Jeong In-sun, 73, who was sitting beside him, wiped his brow, and explained that since a stroke three years ago, he has good and bad days, and it is difficult at times for him control his behavior.

Kim is the only Class B/C war criminal still alive in Korea. He was tried as a war criminal and sentenced to seven years in prison for beating prisoners of war (POWs) at the Makassar Plantation POW camp on the island of Java during the Pacific War in what is known today as Indonesia, then a Dutch colony. In Japan, there are several surviving members of the group founded for and by Korean Class B/C war criminals to live well through mutual assistance, the Dongjinhoe (moving forward together) but with the exception of Kim, all of those who returned to Korea have passed away.

Kim was born in Deokgok-ri, Jinbuk-myeon, Changwon-gun, Gyeongsangnam Province in 1921, the youngest of four brothers and three sisters. In May 1942, at the age of 20, he passed a recruiting test to serve as a camp sentry to watch over the roughly 261 thousand Allied POWs that resulted from Japan’s thrust into Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Since they knew they would eventually be conscripted into the war and because they wanted to try new experiences, in addition to a monthly wage of 50 Yen per month for two years, some 3,223 colonized youth like Kim passed the test. For two months starting in June 1942, they underwent training at a temporary Japanese army boot camp in Seo-myeon, Busan (now the former location of Camp Hialeah), and on Aug. 19, 1942, they boarded a boat for Southeast Asia.

Kim was deployed to the Makassar Plantation on Java. There he was forced to watch over British, Australian and Dutch soldiers captured by the Japanese. With help from the Truth Commission on Forced Mobilization under the Japanese Imperialism, the Hankyoreh was able to obtain trial records written by a Dutch soldier of the Java war crimes court. We confirmed that Kim, then using the Japanese name Kanemura Tekki, was sentenced on May 4 1948 to seven years in prison on charges of beating POWs with fists, a heavy bamboo club, the butt plate of a gun and sticks. Kim pleaded that there were four Kanemuras in his unit, and that he was just a cook, but the court did not accept this. His wife said that he said several times that he had struggled to survive. Some 148 Koreans were found guilty of war crimes like Kim, and of these, 129 (including 14 who were executed) were also POW camp guards like Kim.

After serving time for his prison sentence at Indonesia’s Tjipinang Prison, Kim was moved on Jan 23, 1950 to Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison, which housed war criminals. On Sept 12, 1950, he was released. What awaited those who were released was terrible hardship. Unable to endure the difficulties, two took their own lives. Those with a place to go in Japan stayed, but those with had no place to go chose to return to their homeland, then one of the poorest countries in the world, to endure a social cold shoulder for being “pro-Japanese.”

The war criminals that returned to Korea chose silence. Kim’s eldest daughter, 47, said she did not know until recently that her father was a war criminal. When she thinks about it, she sees that her father was a mysterious man. What really frightened her was his habit of sleeping with his eyes open. He would say things in his sleep like, “If you do not do it, you will die.” At the time, she did not know what he was talking about. One time, while they were living in Jinhae, a thief who broke into the house ran off after seeing her father sleeping with his eyes open.

Jeong, Kim’s wife, was an elite women for the 1950s who graduated from Seongji Girl’s High School in Masan. Waiting for a good catch, she thought about several offers of marraige, and at the age of 25, rather late for marriage at that time, she met Kim through a relative. She received permission from her parents to marry him after he said he planned to return to Japan after getting married. Those plans did not work out, however, and life became a struggle. Jeong said he initially said they were nine years apart in age, but after their first child was born, she learned the difference was actually 15.

Having spent such a long time abroad, Kim could hardly speak Korean. As a result, he could not find a stable job. He supported his family by wandering from construction site to construction site. Only in the late 60s did he finally get a job with Daelim, but he retired in 1978. Kim’s son-in-law, Jang Gyeong-seong, said he did not know why his father-in-law could not return to Japan. He said, however, in light of Kim’s remarks that he had participated in a number of demonstrations, it seemed that the Japanese government may have considered him a radical wounded veteran.

Kim was a youth, just 21, when he left his homeland, and returned to Korea at age 39 after 19 years of bitter wandering. In 1962, the following year, he married and his eldest daughter was born. Now recognized as a victim of Japanese forced mobilization, he receives 800 thousand Won ($692 USD) per year from the government as a health subsidy. Kim’s wife said he still had a lot of unresolved anger. Long ago, Kim used to talk about how he suffered, but she did not listen closely to the circumstances of his suffering, and for this she was most sorry. Jeong said she sometimes cries even now, thinking about how miserable and pathetic the lives of she and her husband have been.

by Kil Yun-hyeong

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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