La Fortaleza Zhongma or Tōgō unit was a research facility for biological warfare built by the Kwantung Army in Beiyinhe , on the outskirts of Harbin , Manchukuo , during the Second Sino-Japanese War .
A Shirō Ishii , researcher at the Japanese Imperial Army focused on biological warfare and chemical warfare , was assigned to start a clandestine program to develop weapons of mass destruction under the patronage of Sadao Araki , Japan ‘s Minister of War.
Ishii built a medical research facility in Harbin in 1932, shortly after the city passed into Japanese hands after the Mukden Incident . This facility conducted legitimate medical research on vaccines and public health . However, the facility was too close to a heavily populated area to be able to conduct clandestine biological warfare investigations, so Ishii selected a second location about 100 km south of Harbin in the village of Beiyinhe. The inhabitants were forcibly evacuated and their village was burned down, enclosing a large plot.
The new facility had earth parapets 3 m high topped with barbed wire electrified and moat with drawbridge surrounding buildings. There were hundreds of rooms and small auxiliary labs, offices, barracks and mess rooms, warehouses and arsenals, crematoria, and prison cells. Of necessity, the Japanese were forced to employ Chinese laborers to build the facility; But due to secrecy, the workers had to cover their heads with a basket so that they could only see small parts of the facility, besides being escorted by armed guards. Prisoners detained in Zhongma included common criminals, captured bandits, anti-Japanese partisans, as well as political prisoners and people arbitrarily detained by the Kempeitai because of suspicious behavior.
Experiments with humans
A variety of medical experiments were carried out on prisoners at Zhongma Fortress. These were usually well fed with their usual diet of rice or wheat , with meat, fish and sometimes even alcoholic beverages – to be able to start the experiments with the subjects in good health. In many cases prisoners were drained of blood over the course of several days, keeping careful reports of deterioration in their physical condition. Others were subjected to food and water deprivation experiments . Prisoners who survived the experiments, but who were considered too weak to remain employed as guinea pigs, were executed. The facility is estimated to have held some 500-600 prisoners, with a capacity of more than 1,000.
In August 1934, one during the traditional summer festival, were given special rations for prisoners. A prisoner, named Li, managed to subdue his guardian, take the keys and release about forty prisoners. Although his legs were chained, his arms were free and the prisoners were able to climb the parapets. Torrential rain had left the facility without electricity, turning off the spotlights and the electrified fence. About 10 fugitives were shot down by the guards; Others were recaptured or died of cold, but several managed to escape and reported on the crimes against humanity carried out by Shirō and his subordinates. As a result of the disclosure, Zhongma Fortress was closed and its activities were transferred to a new location closer to Harbin called Pingfang (Heibo), which became known as the 731 Squadron . The testimony of one of the evaders, Ziyang Wang, was compiled by Xiao Han, director of the Pingfang Museum, in the 1980s. 1 The graphic novel Maruta 454 (2010), by Paul-Yanic Laquerre, Song Yang and Pastor, Describes the escape of 12 Chinese prisoners from the Tōgō Unit, based on Wang’s testimony.
- ↑ Jump to:a b Barenblatt, Daniel (2004). A Plague Upon Humanity . Harper Collins. Pp. 35-36.
- Gold, Hal (2004). Unit 731 Testimony . Tuttle. ISBN 0-8048-3565-9 .