Barbed Wire Surgeon: A prisoner of war in Japan


Barbed-Wire Surgeon is the previously best-selling WW2 memoir written by Alfred A. Weinstein, M.D. Originally published in 1948 through 1965, this one-time selection of the popular Book-of-the-Month Club is the heroic true story of Dr. Weinstein’s harrowing survival through forty months in numerous Japanese prison camps.

It is the story of a group of doctors and medics who continued to fight the Japanese after the surrender of Bataan and Corregidor with flattery, infinite patience, and even deadly consequences to keep a spark of life flickering in their fellow prisoners. Against a somber tapestry of chronic hunger, starvation, and disease, a thin golden thread of the love of a man and woman weaves back and forth. In its broader aspects this is a tale of mankind with his veneer of civilization stripped away.



“Boasts characters far more alive and interesting than any fictional characters could be, a plot that could be lifted by Hollywood almost verbatim, a love story as tender and thrilling as the veriest romantic could wish, an interesting and well-described background and a sheer continuity of interest and suspense that keeps you on the edge of your chair until the wee hours…It offers everything the reader could wish for” Frank G. Slaughter, M.D.

Weinstein was sent to Omori camp in Tokyo after falling out with the Japanese doctors at Shinagawa Infirmary, where he encountered the notorious sadist, Corporal Watanab:

“You two have been sent to this camp because you have a attitude and are arrogant. Our reports say you have refused cooperate with the Nipponese authorities and have disobeyed orders of oflicers of the Imperial Nipponese Army. You are on ofhcial black list.”

Grinning, he added: “It is our duty to teach you discipline and impress upon you that you are prisoners and must obey all orders of the Nipponese even should they emanate from a third class private. We forgive you for your past offenses and hope you will be obedient here. Unfortunately, we have enough doctors in this camp and so you will not do professional work. You will not be treated as doctors. You will do physical labor similar to that done by other prisoner ofhcers. Do you understand?”

“Hai (Yes)!” we both shouted in the best Japanese style.

“You will now stand at attention until Corporal Watanabi is ready to inspect your luggage.”

We stood at the Nip version of attention, head erect, eyes staring, body stiff, all fingers of hands extended and pressed hard toward the thighs. This began at ten o’clock. The Bird sat in his office in front of us, sneaking a look at us out of his slant eyes from time to time.

At noon, a guard approached, leading Private First Class McDermit, one of our medics who had come with us from Manila and was working at Shinagawa prisoner-of-war hospital. Laboring in the supply department as he did, he often made trips to Omori under guard to haul necessities back to the hospital.

The guard had words with the Bird. His face tightened and darkened with anger. Flinging himself out of his chair he dashed out of the building to McDermit.

In pidgin English he demanded: “Why did you leave our supply room to go to the latrine?”

“I wanted to give some pepper and salt to one of my friends here,” McDermit answered, stiffening his bony, five-foot-three frame to attention.

“Ah, so ka?”the Bird answered softening. “It is kind and noble of you to share your food with your friend. I admire you, but,” face darkening again, “it is against my orders for you to communicate with anyone in this camp.”

Lifting a haymaker from the ground, he knocked McDermit cold with his clenched fist, turned on his heel and re-entered his office.

After a few minutes, eyes still glazed, McDermit picked himself up and staggered away.

We continued standing at attention.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.