Japanese in the Gulag

Life was not much better for the Koreans, usually Soviet citizens of Korean extraction, or the Japanese, a staggering 600,000 of whom arrived in the Gulag and the prisoner-of-war camp system at the end of the war. The Japanese suffered in particular from the food, which seemed not only scarce but strange and virtually inedible. As a result, they would hunt and eat things that seemed to their fellow prisoners equally inedible: wild herbs, insects, beetles, snakes, and mushrooms that even Russians would not touch. Occasionally, these forays ended badly: there are records of Japanese prisoners dying from eating poisonous grasses or wild herbs. A hint at how isolated the Japanese felt in the camps comes from the memoirs of a Russian prisoner who once, in a camp library, found a brochure–a speech by the Bolshevik Zhdanov–written in Japanese. He brought it to a Japanese acquaintance, a war prisoner: “I saw him genuinely happy for the first time. Later he told me that he read it every day, just to have contact with his native language.”

SOURCE: Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum (Anchor Books, 2003), pp. 299-300

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