The odyssey of 600,000 imperial Japanese soldiers incarcerated in Soviet labor camps after World War II and their fraught repatriation to postwar Japan.
In August 1945 the Soviet Union seized the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo and the colony of Southern Sakhalin, capturing more than 600,000 Japanese soldiers, who were transported to labor camps across the Soviet Union but primarily concentrated in Siberia and the Far East. Imprisonment came as a surprise to the soldiers, who thought they were being shipped home.
The Japanese prisoners became a workforce for the rebuilding Soviets, as well as pawns in the Cold War. Alongside other Axis POWs, they did backbreaking jobs, from mining and logging to agriculture and construction. They were routinely subjected to “reeducation” glorifying the Soviet system and urging them to support the newly legalized Japanese Communist Party and to resist American influence in Japan upon repatriation. About 60,000 Japanese didn’t survive Siberia. The rest were sent home in waves, the last lingering in the camps until 1956. Already laid low by war and years of hard labor, returnees faced the final shock and alienation of an unrecognizable homeland, transformed after the demise of the imperial state.
Sherzod Muminov draws on extensive Japanese, Russian, and English archives—including memoirs and survivor interviews—to piece together a portrait of life in Siberia and in Japan afterward. Eleven Winters of Discontent reveals the real people underneath facile tropes of the prisoner of war and expands our understanding of the Cold War front. Superpower confrontation played out in the Siberian camps as surely as it did in Berlin or the Bay of Pigs.
Uncovering and lightening the stories of individual internees is only one part of the history, exploring the reality of why they were buried in the first place is the greater contribution. Muminov here enlightens the personal histories of individuals who existed in some cases for over a decade without a state, against the backdrop of a human-natural geography of labor and transformation in Russia’s Far East.
Thorough and well-researched.
Indispensable…I would recommend this book not simply to historians of Japan, of the Cold War, or of Russian forced labor but to anyone who is interested in how our past has built our present, from eastern Europe to Japan.
An excellent account that enables the reader not only to understand the details of the Siberian internment but to reflect on its significance to the Cold War and the development of postwar Japan…Well-researched and articulately written.
The Siberian Internment is one of the forgotten episodes of the Second World War. In this fascinating account, Muminov exploits Japanese memoirs and Russian archives to tell a complex history, attentive both to individual lived experiences and to structural change, including the waning of the Japanese empire and the emergence of the Cold War. A stimulating challenge to the traditional boundaries of Japanese history!
This magnificent work is the first transnational and comprehensive treatment of more than 600,000 Japanese POWs captured in Northeast Asia who were transported to forced labor camps in the Soviet Union, where they languished for many years before a fraught repatriation to Japan. Muminov depicts the POWs with sympathy and compassion, yet examines the history with detachment and objectivity. Eleven Winters of Discontent offers impeccable scholarship, forceful argument, and a gripping narrative.
A fresh, new history of the Siberian Internment that goes beyond hackneyed narratives of victimhood. Using a contextually broader and chronologically longer framework, Muminov moves the internment history beyond a national Japanese experience to a larger transnational story shared by various foreign POWs. At the same time, he reminds us how postwar Japan carefully erased the imperial past by remembering a particular set of hardship narratives while averting its eyes from anything that recalled the empire. An outstanding contribution to our reconsideration of the early postwar and Cold War world.
Muminov renders much-needed complexity and diversity to existing nation-centric narratives of the Siberian internment of over 600,000 Japanese. Giving agency to both Russians and Japanese on the ground, he offers transnational perspectives long called for but rarely achieved. This is a nuanced yet comprehensive treatment of the internment and its sociopolitical life in postwar Japan as well as a riveting read for anyone interested in the global history of war and the making of a postwar nation state.
An extraordinary achievement that connects the communist world with that of wartime East Asia as well as the Cold War, making contributions to the history of World War II, the Soviet gulags, and the postwar politics of life-writing. Muminov deprovincializes both Japanese and Russian modern history, showing they are incomprehensible without knowing the wartime connections that bound them together. In fields that continue to be dominated by narrow national histories, this kind of multilingual, multi-archival approach is extremely rare, and at the cutting edge of historical research.
- 384 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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