Sunday, October 30, 2011

At Japan's National Press Club

The Japan National Press Club (JNPC) hosted a press conference with the seven American former POWs of Japan. They posted a brief report (Japanese only) of the press conference as well as a video. A video and summary of the press conference is below.


Summary
  • Seven former POWs during WWII were invited through “the US-Japan Grassroots Invitational Program for Peace Exchange” of the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is the second year of the program sponsored by the Japanese government.
  • Mr. Rober Vogler Jr., the chief spokesman for the former POWs, talked about his experience in the prison camp in Kamioka, where he engaged in the forced labor at a lead mine during the war [for Mitsui Mining, now Mitsui Metals & Smelting]. He introduced his story of meeting and talking with the family of a Japanese prison guard, who was kind to POWs at that time. Mr. Vogler said, in the conference, “I can forgive despite such an awful experience. I can turn it into a friendship although I can never forget it.” 
  • Mr. Roy Edward Friese, who was imprisoned in Omuta, mentioned, “my memory of Japan has not been a good one. However, I was overwhelmed by the hospitality of Omuta in this visit, and my bad feelings about Japan have vanished. I think this is about the time to forgive.” 
  • Mr. Harry Corre said, “I appreciate the Japanese government, but the Japanese companies have had no sense or recognition of using us as salve labors and made money out of them.” [Mr. Corre was at Omuta at Mitsui's coal mine. Mitsui refused to meet with them or allow them on the property of which they are now minority owners with Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Corp.]
  • Deborah, a daughter of Mr. Harold Bergbower, commented, “We talked with the people at the metal company [Japan Metals & Chemicals, JMC] in Takaoka about the camp as we tried to find it on the map [According to ariel photography of this site at liberation, it is same as today where Takaoka Works a JMC facility exists]. We have been able to communicate. That led to a peace in my father. I think this is the beginning of friendship and peace itself.” 
  • There were questions on several topics including the atomic bomb dropped by the United States. The POWs were sympathetic to horror and destruction of the bombs. They are, however, convinced that the bombs ended the war and saved their lives as well as the lives of millions of Americans and Japanese.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

POW Trip to Japan

Stars and Stripes reporter Charlie Reed writes on October 20, 2011

Note that prisoners of war are not "interned" or "internees." They are military prisoners of war who are imprisoned. Civilians are internees.

Former American POWs return to Japan to visit site of internment

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – Time doesn’t heal all wounds.

If it did, 88-year-old Harry Corre wouldn’t be in Japan right now.

Corre and six other men held as prisoners of war by Japan during World War II arrived in Tokyo Sunday for a weeklong “reconciliation tour” sponsored by the Japanese government.

Some 27,000 U.S. troops were captured by Japan during the war and forced into slave labor. The POWs suffered in hellacious conditions at the hands of their Japanese captors; torture, starvation, disease, exposure and the constant deaths of their brothers in arms.

Japan organized the trip to help the men gain a sense of closure to the horrific ordeal. For while they recovered from their injuries and renourished their bodies, many say the pain from their psychological wounds has not dulled with time.

“It doesn’t go away,” said Corre, who works for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Los Angeles. “And it never will.”


Many of the Americans captured by Japan — including Corre and the others in his group — were sent to work directly for Japanese companies fueling the war effort at more than 100 camps throughout Japan. Several of the some 60 companies are still in business today, though only one [Japan Metals & Minerals Co. Ltd.] agreed to participate in the tour.

Those not sent to the companies worked directly for the Japanese military in the Philippines, China and elsewhere in the Pacific.

Tens of thousands of other Allied troops and Chinese, Koreans and Filipinos were also captured by Japan during WWII and the preceding Sino-Japanese War and worked alongside the Americans at the corporate and military work camps.

Corre attributes his own survival at a work camp in Omuta [coal mining for Mitsui Mining, now Nippon Coke & Engineering]  in southwestern Japan to the demise of his fellow soldiers, some of whom would trade their meager daily mush rations for his cigarettes.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of guys I starved to death,” he said during a lecture Monday night at Temple University in Tokyo.

“I’m not proud of it, but I survived,” Corre said. “When you are a POW, the only thing you think about is how to live, not the next guy.”

The guilt and horror still consume his thoughts, even his dreams.

“The best thing you can do is talk about your experience,” Corre said, echoing advice he said he doles out to other veterans at the VA hospital in Los Angeles. “But there’s no way you forget it.”

Following their release after Japan’s surrender in August 1945, the POWs said they tried to forget. Most failed.

“The government said go home, forget about the war and don’t tell anyone about the atrocities,” Harold Bergbower, 91, said Monday at the Temple lecture. “It was terrible.”

Bergbower, who now lives in Peoria, Ariz., returned to Japan with his family in the mid-1950s while still in the Air Force to help train the Japanese military. The Japan Self-Defense Forces were established under the auspices of the U.S. during its occupation of Japan following WWII.

Bergbower spent three years in Japan following the war, but until Tuesday had never gone back to the site of the chemical plant where he worked after being shipped to Japan from the Philippines after his capture.

He was joined by 88-year-old James Collier, also held captive at the chemical plant.

“We wanted to participate in the program in hopes that their visit to our company will help to mitigate the pains that they had to go through and the feelings they have harbored for many years,” said company spokesman Takao Hamada. “I understand that it was a hard decision for them to make to come back here.”

But hard doesn’t come close to the emotions that played into Collier’s decision to return to Japan.

“I was torn,” said Collier, a retired teacher and guidance counselor from Salinas, Calif., who spoke to Stars and Stripes via telephone after touring the Takaoka factory [Japan Metals & Chemicals, JMC] Tuesday. “The company officials were so gracious and well-prepared.”

But all the pleasantries essentially distracted him, he said, and the site had totally changed after decades of development.

“I didn’t slay any demons today,” Collier said. “It was a very nice distraction. ... But those feelings are always right there lurking under the surface, like a volcano.”

Correction
An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized the number of U.S. POWs who died or were killed after being captured by Japan during WWII. Of the approximately 27,000 POWs, roughly 40 percent perished, 1,115 of them after being sent to Japan to work as forced laborers.

The POWs who came to Japan were dispersed among more than 100 camps run by approximately 60 companies.

Monday, October 17, 2011

2nd US POW Delegation to Japan, October 15-23, 2011

On Saturday, October 15, 2011, the second delegation of American former POWs of Japan left the United States to visit Japan. They are guests of the Japanese government. It is unclear when the Japan's Foreign Ministry will announce the trip.

To honor these men, Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) took to the floor of the House on October 13th:

Mr. HONDA. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor veterans from America's greatest generation and thank the Government of Japan for recognizing the sacrifices of these men. On Saturday, October 15, seven former members of the U.S. Army and Army Air Corps, who fought in the Battle for the Philippines at the start of World War II, from December 1941 to May 1942, will travel to Tokyo as guests of the Japanese government. These brave soldiers and airmen were all prisoners of war of Imperial Japan.

The conditions in which they were held are unimaginable. Their first trip to Japan was on aging freighters called "Hellships,'' where the men were loaded into suffocating holds with little space, water, food, or sanitation. At the POW camps in the Philippines, Japan and China, they suffered unmerciful abuse aggravated by the lack of food, medical care, clothing, and appropriate housing.

Each POW also became a slave laborer at the mines, factories, smelters, and docks of Japan's largest companies, including Mitsui, Nippon Steel, Showa Denko, Mitsubishi, and Japan Metals & Chemicals Company. In the end, nearly 40% of the American POWs of Japan perished; compared to the two percent of those in Nazi Germany's POW camps.
 
The men traveling to Japan this weekend include five residents of California, one from Arizona and one from Missouri. There are two survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March and four who were captured during the surrender of Corregidor. Furthermore, two of the veterans believe that they were subject to medical experimentation.

In September 2010, the Japanese government delivered to the first American POW delegation an official apology for the damage and suffering these men endured. Although the Japanese government had hosted POWs from U.S. wartime Allies, this was the first trip to Japan for American POWs. It was also the first official apology to any prisoners of war held by Japan.

I know that the American POWs fought hard for this recognition. I appreciate the courage of the Japanese government for their historic and meaningful apology. I thank the POWs for their persistent pursuit of justice, and commend the U.S. State Department for helping them. Now, it is time for the many Japanese companies that used POWs for slave labor during World War II to follow the example of their government by offering an apology and supporting programs for lasting remembrance and reconciliation. Furthermore, I invite my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in a making a small, but significant, gesture to show these men that Congress has not forgotten their experience and sacrifice by cosponsoring House Resolution 333, which I introduced earlier this year.

I wish these men a fulfilling trip to Japan, and I hope that their trip contributes to securing the historic peace between the U.S. and our important ally Japan. Second U.S. POW Delegation to Japan, October 15-23, 2011

Harold A. Bergbower, 91, lives in Peoria, Arizona. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1939 and was part of V Bomber Command, 19th Bomb Group, 28th Bombardment Squadron, Far East Air Force. He was at Clarke Field when Japan attacked on December 8, 1941. He was knocked out in the bombardment and when he awoke he found himself in the morgue at Fort Stotsenburg. Bergbower crawled out and went back to his squadron to fight in the Battle of Bataan. By escaping to Mindanao after surrender, he avoided the Bataan Death March and was captured in May. On the Philippines, he was imprisoned at Malaybalay on Mindanao and the Davao Penal Colony. In August 1944, he survived the sinking of several Hellships only to end up on Mitsubishi's Noto Marti; a trip he has completely blocked out. He was a slave laborer scooping iron ore into an open hearth furnace at the Nagoya-6B-Nomachi (Takaoka) camp for the Hokkai Denka Company which was involved in ferro-alloy smelting. Today, the site remains in ferro-alloy business as Takaoka Works. It is, as was Hokkai Denka, still part of Japan Metals & Chemicals Co., Ltd (JMC, Nihon Jukagaku Kogyo). Bergbower stayed in the U.S. Air Force and returned to Japan (1954-1957) to train Japan's Air Self-Defense Force. He and his family lived near air bases in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture and in Fukuoka (Itazuke), Fukuoka Prefecture. After retiring in 1969, he became a golf pro for Dell Webb's Sun City, Arizona. He is a past Commander of the American Defenders (2005-6) and helped to establish its Descendant's Group.
POW#89
Trent Franks (R-AZ) 

James C. Collier, 88, lives in Salinas, California. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1940 at the age of 16. As a member of U.S. Army 59th Coast Artillery, Battery D ``Cheney'' he was captured on Corregidor. Before being shipped from the Philippines to Japan on Mitsubishi's Noto Maru in August 1944, he was held in Cabanatuan and Clark Field. Collier was a slave laborer feeding iron ore into the open hearth furnace at the Nagoya-6B-Nomachi (Takaoka) camp for the Hokkai Denka Company, which was involved in ferro-alloy smelting. Today, the site remains in ferroalloy business as Takaoka Works. It is, as was Hokkai Denka, still part of Japan Metals & Chemicals Co., Ltd (JMC, Nihon Jukagaku Kogyo). After WWII, he earned two master's degrees: one in the Teaching of English from San Jose State and another in School Counseling from the University of Oregon, Eugene. He taught English and Psychology and worked as a guidance counselor in a high school and community college for 31 years.
POW#130
Sam Farr (D-CA) 

Harry Corre, 88, lives in Los Angeles, California. He joined the U.S. Army in 1941 and was sent to the Philippines as part of the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment, Battery C "Wheeler.'' He was captured by the Japanese with the surrender of Bataan on April 9, 1942 and began the infamous Bataan Death March. He escaped by swimming, with the assistance of a hastily improvised floatation device, the three-and-a-half miles to Corregidor, where he rejoined his unit. Corre was surrendered on Corregidor and imprisoned at Cabanatuan #1 and #3. He was shipped to Japan in July 1943 on Mitsubishi's Clyde Maru to mine coal at Omuta Fukuoka #17 Branch POW Camp for Mitsui Mining (now Mitsui's Nippon Coke & Engineering Company Co., Ltd., NB: Mitsui-aflliated companies now have a minority stake in this company, of which Nippon Steel and Sumitomo hold the majority of shares. See FY2010 Annual Report, page 27, in Japanese only.). After the war he worked odd jobs for several years and then moved to California to work in the aerospace industry. He returned to school in 1971 and graduated from Western Electronic Institute in Los Angeles as an electronics engineer. He worked in the aerospace industry for 40 years with his last position at TRW. Corre presently works at the Los Angeles, California Veterans Administration Hospital as a Patient Advocate and as a Veterans Service Officer for the American Ex-Prisoners of War as well as a POW Coordinator for the Veterans Administration Hospital & West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Regional Office.
POW# 283
Karen Bass (D-CA) 

Roy Edward Friese, 88, lives in Calimesa, California. He joined the U.S. Army in 1941 and became a member of the 60th Coast Artillery Regiment Battery E ``Erie.'' He arrived in the Philippines in April 1941 for basic training. He was assigned to a searchlight battery on the tip of Bataan and then evacuated to Corregidor when Bataan fell April 9, 1942. He was imprisoned on the Philippines in Bilibid and Cabanatuan. Friese was shipped to Japan in July 1943 on Mitsubishi's Clyde Maru to mine coal at Omuta Fukuoka #17 Branch POW Camp for Mitsui Mining (now Mitsui's Nippon Coke & Engineering Company, NB: Mitsui-aflliated companies now have a minority stake in this company, of which Nippon Steel and Sumitomo hold the majority of shares. See FY2010 Annual Report, page 27, in Japanese only.).  After WWII, he reenlisted in the U.S. Army and in 1947 transferred to the U.S. Air Force. He retired after 20 years of service. In civilian life he was employed doing various types of electronics work. In 1975, Friese established his own company installing & repairing micrographic equipment. In retirement he pursues hobbies of travel, photography, woodworking, and collecting antique clocks.
POW#173

Ralph E. Griffith, 88, lives in Hannibal, Missouri. He enlisted in the army in 1941 at the age of 17 and received his basic training on Corregidor, the Philippines. He was captured on Corregidor in May 1942 with his unit, the U.S. Army 60th Coast Artillery Regiment Battery F ``Flint.'' On the Philippines he was a POW in Bilibid and Cabanatuan. He was shipped to Mukden, China (today's Shenyang) in October 1942 on Mitsubishi's Tottori Maru via Korea to Manchuria. Griffith was a slave laborer at MKK (Manshu Kosaku Kikai, which some researchers believe was owned by Mitsubishi and known as Manchuria Mitsubishi Machine Tool Company, Ltd.) factory working as a planer operator. He believes that the multiple shots and blood tests that he received while at Mukden were part of human medical experiments conducted by the Imperial Army's 731st Biological Warfare Unit. At liberation, he walked out the main gate of the POW camp and was immediately taken by the hand by a little Chinese girl. She brought him to her home where her family had prepared a meal for him. This family fed and cared for him until he was repatriated. Ever since, whenever he sees a Chinese family dining at a restaurant he quietly pays their bill. After the war, he went to work for railways both in Missouri and Alaska. Not liking the cold weather, he went to work for the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway in northern Indiana. After 37 years, he retired from the Railway and returned to his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri where he was born and raised.
POW#552
Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO)

Oscar L. Leonard, 92, lives in Paradise, California. He joined the Idaho National Guard 116th Cavalry in 1939 and the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1940. He was sent to the Philippines to be an airplane mechanic with 28th Heavy Bomb Squadron at Clark Field. He was surrendered on Mindanao in May 1942 and held as a POW in Malaybalay and Bilibid. Leonard was then shipped to Japan on Mitsubishi's Tottori Maru in October 1942. In Japan, he was held in a prison in Kawasaki and at Tokyo-2B-Kawasaki POW Camp (Mitsui Wharf Co., Ltd. known as "Mitsui Madhouse'') to be used as stevedore and steel mill slave labor for the Mitsui Corporation as well as mixing chemicals for ammunition for Showa Denko. He was then held at Tokyo-5D-Kawasaki POW Camp where he was forced to work at a steel mill for Nihon Kokan (Japan Steel Pipe, now part of JFE Holdings). He was sent finally to Tokyo-7B-Hitachi POW Camp to refine copper ore for Nippon Mining (today, JX Holdings Ltd., Inc.). He weighed only 85 pounds at liberation. After World War II, Leonard felt he was too old to return to medical school and decided to become a pharmacist. He attended Marin College and graduated from Idaho State College School of Pharmacy Pocatello in 1954. He still works relief at local pharmacies, sometimes helps his youngest daughter plant trees on her ten acres of land, cuts and chops his own firewood, and enjoys world travel.
POW#247

Robert J. Vogler, Jr., 90, lives in Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, California. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in January 1940 at the age of 19. Stationed in Manila as part of the 24th Pursuit Group 17th Pursuit Squadron, he completed aircraft instrument training and attended the University of Philippines to study engineering. He serviced aircraft and then fought as an infantry soldier during the Battle of Bataan. As a POW, he survived the Bataan Death March, Camp O'Donnell, and Cabanatuan in the Philippines. He was shipped to Mukden, China (today's Shenyang) in October 1942 on Mitsubishi's Tottori Maru via Korea to Manchuria. Vogler was a slave laborer at MKK factory (Manshu Kosaku Kikai, which some researchers believe was owned by Mitsubishi and known as Manchuria Mitsubishi Machine Tool Company, Ltd.), working as a grinding specialist. He believes that the multiple shots and rectal probes that he received while at Mukden were human medical experiments conducted by the Imperial Army's 731st Biological Warfare Unit. In May 1944, he and 150 American POWs were transferred to Nagoya-1B-Kamioka, Japan as punishment for bad behavior to be slave laborers for Mitsui Mining (now Kamioka Kogyo, a 100% subsidiary of Mitsui Mining & Smelting Co., Ltd.) mining lead and zinc. Mitsui now operates a recycling center at the former POW camp site. The mine was also the source of one of Japan's four major cases of mass industrial poisoning in the 1960s. After the war, he remained in the U.S. Air Force, retiring in 1960. He was then employed by General Dynamics as a manufacturing and development engineer, but was forced to retire in 1976 due to health issues caused by his POW experience. In 2000, Mr. Volger and his wife returned to Kamioka to a warm welcome from mine representatives, town officials, citizens, and school children. He said that the visit brought him to tears and helped rest the many demons that haunted him from his maltreatment in Japan's POW camps.
POW#138 and #0336
Darrell Issa (R-CA) 

None of these veteran's Representatives have become co-sponsors of H. Res. 333. (November 1, 2011)


Monday, October 10, 2011

Wake Island Massacre Anniversary


In the late afternoon of October 7, 1943, 98 civilian American POWs were lined up and seated along the ditch facing the sea. They were blindfolded with their hands and feet bound. Three platoons of Japanese troops then mowed them down with machine gun and rifle fire.

The Americans, all civilian contractors for Morrison-Knudson captured after the historic defense of Wake Island in December 1941, were dumped into the ditch and covered with coral sand. The following day, a report from an enlisted man that he saw one of the prisoners escape during the confusion of the massacre prompted the disinterment of the bodies. The corpses were dug up and counted, then hastily reburied.

The sailor had been correct; one American was missing. That man, whose identity has not been discovered, was re-captured and beheaded personally by the island's commander, Admiral Sakaibara, three weeks later.

On a large coral rock near where the victims were buried is carved 98 US PW 5-10-43 [pictured above]. It is believed that the lone escapee of the massacre returned to the site to carve this lonely memorial before he was recaptured.

The 98 men were what was left of the 1,150 civilian contractors on Wake Island employed by the Morrison-Knudsen Company, to build an airfield, seaplane base, and submarine base and to dredge a channel into the lagoon to allow access for U.S. submarines. Combat, disease, and shipment to Japan and China for slave labor had reduced the group to those unlucky few.  They toiled, for the Japanese, in violation of the Geneva Convention at various military projects on all three islands of the atoll.

The Wake Island Massacre was not the worst nor the most infamous of Imperial Japan's military's tendency to favor the expediency of a mass killing over a humane plan for those suddenly put into their care. Nanking and Manila may be the most well-known for the number of non-combatants killed, but Palawan (which I will soon write about), Bangka Island, and Sandakan have well-documented histories.

On the beach at Bangka in 1942, Japanese soldiers machine gunned 22 shipwrecked Australian military nurses. There was only one survivor, Vivian Bullwinkle. The Sandakan Death Marches were a series of forced marches in Borneo from Sandakan to Ranau which resulted in the deaths of more than 3,600 Indonesian civilian slave laborers and 2,400 Allied prisoners of war. The 38 prisoners left alive at Ranau were shot by their guards, possibly 12 days after the War's end.

Good Sources:
A Magnificent Fight: Marines in the Battle for Wake Island by Robert J. Cressman

The Seige of Wake Island: Facing Fearful Odds by Gregory Urwin

Massacre on Wake Island By Major Mark E. Hubbs, U.S. Army Reserve (Retired)Naval History Magazine - February 2001 Vol. 15 Number 1

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Mitsui's Liberation Dinners

Today, Mitsui family members and corporate officials refuse to meet with the former slave laborers that kept their business profitable during World War II. This was not always the case.

During the War, Mitsui, Japan's oldest and largest trading company, transported and used the greatest number of Allied POWs as slave laborers. Their mines, factories, and docks were considered among the most hellish for non-Japanese. At the postwar war crimes tribunals, former POWs identified many Mitsui employees as sadists, torturers, and murderers.

In the War’s immediate aftermath, hoping to temper these POWs' feelings, Mitsui’s leaders appear to have held a series of "parties" for senior officers from their POW camps. The thoughts of the attendees, unfortunately, are not readily available. Holocaust scholars I have talked with cannot recall any similar farewells between German corporate officials and their recently-released slave laborers.

As this photo in the Australian War Memorial archives shows, Baron Takaharu MITSUI is hosting a party in early September 1945 with Allied officers who had been held in Fukuoka Camp #17, a POW camp at Omuta located at the Mitsui Kozan Miike Kogyo-Sho coal mine and Mitsui Zinc Foundry.

Although the mine is long closed--it was the site in 1960 of Japan's worst and most violent labor dispute--Mitsui facilities  remain at the location and are part of Mitsui's Nippon Coke & Engineering Co. Ltd., one of the successors of Mitsui Mining.  The Japanese government has recently submitted an application to UNESCO to designate this Miike mine as a World  Industrial Heritage Site.

In the photo ABOVE, from left to right are Baron MITSUI; Captain Richard Parker, Australian Army Medical Corps; Padre C. Hamel, Royal Netherlands Army; Lieutenant Theodore Bronk, United States Army Medical Corps; Scotty Howell, Australian Army; and Lieutenant Gerit Bras, Royal Netherlands Army Medical Corps.


In this photo to the LEFT, also from the "party," are: Left To Right: Lieutenant (Lt) Gerit Bras, Royal Netherlands Army Medical Corps; Lt Harold Proff, United States Army Medical Corps; and Captain Ian L. Duncan, Australian Army Medical Corps.

Baron MITSUI, a Dartmouth (1915) graduate, was the owner of the coal mine where these POWs slaved. He took a peculiar interest in their existence at his largest mine. Many former POWs remember seeing the Baron visit both their camp and the mine in his open touring car. He even attended a burlesque show the POWs were allowed to stage in the fall of 1944.

He, thus, knew that the mine was so dangerous that it had been shut down for years and that the injury rate among the POWs was very high. He saw the emaciated POWs and he knew that food, heat, medicine, and clothing were withheld. And he did nothing.

Prior to this "party," up north in Hokkaido, the mine managers of the Mitsui mine at the Hakodate #4, Nishi-Ashibetsu POW camp held their own "celebration." On 20 August 1945, three days after they informed their slave laborers of Japan's surrender, the officials of the Mitsui Mining Company invited POW commander, Colonel William Ashurst and several other officers to a dinner at the local Mitsui Company Club House. The picture BELOW is of some of the attendees. The following POWs, nearly all North China Marines or Wake Island Marines, attended:

Americans: Maj L A Brown, Maj J P S Devereaux, Capt J A White, Capt H C Freuler, Lt W M Kessler, Lt W W Lewis, Lt M L Lewis (All Americans were Marines except for M Lewis who was Army Air Corps).
Australians: Col J J Scanlon, Maj J R P Clark, Maj J Edmonds-Wilson, Capt S G Nottage, Capt R A McDonald, Capt P H Brown, Lt E R Almond, Lt J RBadham.

Who's the boss?


Apologies are good business. For the myriad German companies that used slave labor during World War II, their acts of contrition have made their country a model for meaningful reconciliation—even if it is 66 years later. Further, it definitively separates the modern company from its sordid past.  Recently, the German fashion house Hugo Boss reconfirmed this with its admission that the company was a purveyor of Nazi uniforms and user of slave labor.

In September, the company, now partly owned by an Italian conglomerate, apologized for its maltreatment of forced workers when it supplied the Nazis with uniforms. One of the company founder's first big contracts was to supply the brown shirts to the early Nazi party.

The Hugo Boss Group confirmed all this when it released last month a new book it financed by economic historian Roman Koester of the Bundeswehr (Federal Defense Force) University in Munich, Hugo Boss, 1924-1945. A Clothing Factory During the Weimar Republic and Third Reich. Koester explains how Hugo Ferdinand Boss's clothing factory in the southern German town of Metzingen employed forced laborers during the war.

Boss joined the National Socialist Party in 1931, and orders for the design and manufacture of uniforms from the party saved his factory from bankruptcy. As workers became scarce during the war, the factory employed 140 forced laborers, most of whom were women. A further 40 French prisoners of war worked for the company from October 1940 to April 1941.

The book concludes that company founder Hugo Boss was a loyal Nazi. "It is clear that Hugo F Boss did not only join the party because it led to contracts for uniform production, but also because he was a follower of National Socialism," wrote Professor Koester.

Both Mr Koester and the company insist that it had no influence over the contents of the book, although it provided the funding. The company said it financed Koester's research in order to add "clarity and objectivity to the discussion."

"It also wishes to express its profound regret to those who suffered harm or hardship at the factory run by Hugo Ferdinand Boss under National Socialist rule," it said on its website. In addition, it made a contribution to the international fund set up to compensate former forced laborers, known as The Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future

In contrast, Japanese companies that used forced and slave labor during the war have avoided all discussion of the issue and refused to acknowledge any culpability. Neither have these companies received the scrutiny or condemnation as those in Germany. The Japanese companies claim that they should not be held responsible for the acts of their predecessors. Interestingly, most the Japanese companies that used slave and forced labor have not changed ownership.


If you are interested in the imagery and branding of the totalitarian state, see:

IRON FISTS: Branding the 20th-Century Totalitarian State by Steven Heller (2008)