The lingering issue of Korean class B and C war criminals

Posted on : 2015-04-02 16:28 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
During occupation, Korean soldiers were guilty of abusing prisoners while fighting as part of the Japanese military

Over the last several years, Lee Hak-rae, 90, president of Dongjinhoe (a group whose name means “move forward together”) appears to have grown much weaker. He still looks the same when he walks, his back ramrod straight and a cane in his left hand, but his pace has slowed. Where he was once full of vigor, he now has trouble recognizing his loved ones.

But as soon as we brought up the issue of Korean class B and C war criminals - an issue that Lee has spent his whole life trying to tackle - he became a new man.

“I wish that this problem could be solved this year, since it‘s the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Japan,” Lee said.

On Apr. 1, Lee attended an event commemorating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Dongjinhoe, which was held at the House of Representatives in Tokyo on Apr. 1. As we walked around each of the 43 charts that were set up for the event, he passionately explained why this issue needs to be addressed.

The charts clearly presented the history of Korean class B and C war criminals, from Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910, through Japan’s recruitment of POW guards in May 1942, and finally to those guards’ conviction in the war crimes trials carried out by the Allies.

The issue of Korean class B and class C war criminals began when Japan, which launched the War in the Pacific in Dec. 1941, won a series of stunning victories on the Southeast Asian front. The advancing Japanese forces had captured large numbers of Allied prisoners, and the Japanese government mobilized 3,012 young Koreans to guard them.

These young Koreans became the lowest functionaries in the war that Japan was waging. After the war, 129 of these guards - including Lee - were found guilty of abusing prisoners in the Allied war crimes trials. 23 of them were sentenced to death and executed.

For those who served prison sentences, what awaited them upon their release was the social stigma of being war criminals and Japanese collaborators.

Since these individuals were stripped of their Japanese citizenship by the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which took effect in Apr. 1952, they were not eligible to receive the pension and medical relief legally guaranteed to Japanese soldiers and civilian employees of the military. Unable to endure their suffering, Heo Yeong and Yang Wol-seong ended their lives in 1955 and 1956, respectively.

“The Japanese government has treated them inconsistently. When they were prosecuted, it regarded them as Japanese; but when it was time for them to receive assistance, it conveniently came to see them as Koreans,” said Aiko Utsumi, the leader of a group that supports Dongjinhoe. Aiko has dedicated her life to studying the issue of the class B and C war criminals.

In April 1955, individuals who were infuriated by this treatment formed Dongjinhoe at Sugamo Prison in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, where the Japanese war criminals had been incarcerated. As of this year, the group has been around for 60 years.

The group drafted a bill that would have given the victims or one of their surviving family members a compensatory subsidy of 3 million yen (US$25,080) and brought it before the Japanese Diet in May 2008, but the bill was rejected at the close of the session in July 2009.

In June 2006, the South Korean government acknowledged them as victims of forced mobilization and took measures to restore their reputation. However, in Oct. 2014, a lawsuit was filed at the Constitutional Court against the government for not bringing diplomatic pressure to bear on the Japanese government to resolve the issue.

“The only way to address this problem is to pass a law about it. I would like to bring a bill before the Diet once more with bipartisan support so that we can resolve this issue while Lee Hak-rae is still in good health,” said Takahiro Yokomichi, a lawmaker with the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).


By Gil Yun-hyung, Tokyo correspondent


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