Avoiding Japanese ‘doctors’ in Shinagawa Camp, Tokyo

Shinagawa POW camp. An aerial shot taken towards the end of the war.

Shinagawa POW camp. An aerial shot taken towards the end of the war.

Prisoners of War of the Japanese were to endure some terrible conditions throughout the war. The attitude of the Japanese seemed to be the same, whether it was female civilian detainees or men who had been captured in combat. All were subject to harsh and degrading treatment, suffered from lack of food and medical facilities, even when it was available, and could be subject to brutal beatings at the whim of their guards. Significant numbers died.

At the forefront of attempts to improve the conditions of prisoners were a number of doctors who had been captured alongside the others. They were to improvise medical treatments and even operate in the most primitive of conditions in an effort to save lives. The struggle went on in the jungle encampments on the Death Railway as well as the prison camps in Japan itself.

Alfred A Weinstein M.D. had been captured on the Philippines and spent time moving between prison camps. At the beginning of April 1944 he arrived at Shinagawa Camp, an infirmary serving the POW camps around Tokyo. There was no reason they needed to suffer the primitive conditions suffered in the Jungle. As Weinstein was to discover the main threat was actually the Japanese doctors themselves:

To Dr. Tokuda and Dr. Fugi we were prisoners, first and always. We had to obey their orders concerning the treatment of patients or be punished. As physicians, we were of interest to them only in so far as we could impart our knowledge and technique. In the very process of doing so, their hatred for us increased. Dr. Tokuda was a young man of twenty-eight, son of wealthy parents in the moving-picture industry, a recent graduate of a Tokyo university and medical school.

He had not yet submitted a medical thesis and was not licensed to practice medicine other than in the Army. He was short, slight, with shaven head, sloping forehead, and receding chin. His shifty eyes never focused on your face. He waddled about in glittering riding boots and baggy britches, the crotch of which almost reached the back of his knees. We called him “Dung in Britches.” His bowlegged gait and beetle head also earned him the pseudonym of the “Spider.”

Prisoner-patients were experimental animals to be used in furthering his knowledge of medicine and surgery. He had a monkeylike curiosity about medicine. He had an overpowering desire to become a great physician and surgeon in eight easy lessons.

He was torn by psychological conflict. He wanted to learn from us. At the same time he wanted to impress us with his superior knowledge. He wanted to learn from us. Yet he hated us for teaching him. Association with us increased his knowledge and inferiority complex simultaneously.

He was proud of the improvement we made in the hospital in so far as it reflected on his professional standing in the eyes of his confreres in Nip headquarters in Omori, Tokyo. We had to play on this broad streak of vanity to procure equipment, medicine, and food for emaciated diseased prisoners. “Dr. Tokuda,” we said, “all Allied governments will be interested in your magnificent administration of this fine hospital when the war comes to an end. They will be grateful to you for your efforts in curing their countrymen. You will be a great person in their eyes.” He beamed. We got some of the things we needed.

Although our surgical setup improved, our problems concerning the treatment of patients who needed surgery became more complicated. Dr. Tokuda was not interested in the proper treatment of disease by surgery. He was interested only in per- fecting himself in the technique of surgery.

To keep helpless patients from falling into the hands of this butcher, we had to rely upon guile and cunning. All our efforts were directed toward the end of preventing any surgery from be- ing done at Shinagawa other than that of the most urgent nature.

We received patients sent in from work camps with the diagno- ses of appendicitis, gall-bladder disease, kidney stone, and her- nia. We changed their diagnoses. We hid the patients in medical wards under false ones. If their symptoms subsided, we rested them up and sent them back to their work camps. It was safer for them to take their chances on a recurrence of their illness than to risk death at the hands of the great Spider.

If they got worse, they were operated on at night while he was out of camp. This was done in the face of his direct orders forbidding any surgery being done other than by Dr. Tokuda. Black with anger the next morning, he cussed and howled when he found out that a victim – had escaped his tender ministration. We told him blandly that it was an emergency and we were unable to reach him. These operations were done on the wards, kneeling on the straw-covered floor.

When Dr. Tokuda left for a three- or four-day tour of inspec- tion, we had a field day operating on patients we had hidden in the medical wards; appendices, incarcerated hernias, and bleed- ing hemorrhoids.

We advised patients with gallstones and peptic ulcer of the stomach to refuse operation if he discovered their ailments. Major surgery of this type performed by him would have been a death sentence. He beat these patients for refusing operation. He sent them back to their work camps to labor.

Certain patients had to be operated on to live. Dr. Tokuda began the operation, and mucked about until we finally took the instruments from him to finish the job. It infuriated him.

After Commander Hugh Cleave of the British Navy, captured in Hong Kong, came to Shinagawa, we pulled a brother and sister act on the Spider. Between the two of us, Cleave and I kept him so confused, elbowing him out of the way or holding retractors, that we were able to finish operations before he was able to do any damage. We repaired a double hernia on Italian Commander Bernanti in this manner. The Spider was furious. He couldn’t get a lick in.

See Alfred A Weinstein: Barbed Wire Surgeon

After Shinagawa Weinstein was sent to Omori POW camp where he was to suffer, along with many others, at the hands of the notorious sadist 'the Bird',  Mutsuhiro Watanabe.

After Shinagawa Weinstein was sent to Omori POW camp where he was to suffer, along with many others at the hands of the notorious sadist ‘the Bird’, Mutsuhiro Watanabe.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

ccg April 17, 2014 at 6:05 pm

Was Dr. Tokuda tried arter the war?

Pierre Lagacé April 12, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Thanks again for this small part of History.
These have to be told.

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