Daily Archives: 16 December 2005

Foreign Workers in Kobe Shipyards, 1944

We [young men drafted from Korea] worked on a huge military ship, camouflaging it from the American planes. When they took it off dry dock we finished the top and the inside. This work had to be done deep in the bottom of the ship. The workers banged away with rivets and machinery, making huge noises that reverberated inside the ship. Those workers went down in the morning and came out late at night. They never saw the sun. The black dust flew around in there and covered them with soot, so they were all black–their whole bodies, all black.

The officer on board ship chose me to be his deputy and ordered me to take refreshments to the other officers and guards. Because of that, I didn’t suffer too badly. Part of my job was to deliver lunches to the Japanese guards. In their box lunch they had white rice and other tasty things, but even so, these bosses were so spoiled that they complained about the quality of their food. They yelled, “This is not fit for human consumption. Not even pigs would eat this!” They actually tossed it to me, and yelled, “Here, you eat this.”

When they did that, I shared it with my friends because they were really starving. The rest I stashed away, dried it, hid it, so I could take it with me when I got ready to escape. I did this for several months.

Prisoners of war worked there also, mixed in with us. These prisoners were mostly British, captured in Singapore. You could tell they had been starved–they were just skin and bones. They looked so emaciated that even we, who were hungry, thought they looked starved. They were brought to the ship in shackles, then the shackles were taken off. They scrounged in the garbage cans for any scraps of food.

I felt so sorry for them that I shared cigarettes in secret. They said to me, thank you, thank you, so many times that I felt embarrassed for the little I could do. If I had been caught, of course, my own life would be in danger. Although we couldn’t really communicate, whenever they saw me they smiled, laughed, and called out. There is no question that some things that one human being should never do to another had been done by those Japanese.

SOURCE: Under the Black Umbrella: Voices from Colonial Korea, 1910-1945, by Hildi Kang (Cornell U. Press, 2001), p. 125

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