Executives from Mitsubishi Materials, a major Japanese corporation, have offered an unprecedented apology on Sunday at a ceremony in Los Angeles for using American prisoners of war (POWs) as forced labor during World War II.
Mitsubishi Materials Senior Executive Officer Hikaru Kimura through a translator told an audience at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance that the company offered “a most remorseful apology” to the American POWs who endured “harsh, severe hardships” during their time working against their will in Japan during the war.
94 year old James Murphy of California, one of the two surviving US prisoners who could be located and who was well enough to travel to accept the apology in person, appreciated the gesture.
“I listened very carefully to Mr Kimura’s statement of apology and found it very, very sincere, humble and revealing,” he said.
“We hope that we can go ahead now and have a better understanding, a better friendship and closer ties with our ally, Japan,” Murphy added.
Murphy, a survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March during which tens of thousands of POWs were transferred forcibly in the Philippines by the Japanese Imperial Army, had previously told media that his time in Mitsubishi’s Osarizawa Copper Mine was “slavery in every way: no food, no medicine, no clothing, no sanitation,” and that the knowledge that the POWs were helping build fighter planes for the enemy to be used against America made the experience worse.
Mitsubishi Mining Co., Mitsubishi Materials’ predecessor, made use of 2,041 prisoners in six POW camps in Japan during the war, more than 1,000 of whom were American, according to non-profit research center, Asia Policy Point.
Reuters reported that based on Asia Policy Point’s research, of the 876 Americans in the four POW camps operated by Mitsubishi Mining Co. at the time of liberation in 1945, 27 had died.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said about 12,000 American POWs were used for forced labor by the Japanese government and private companies to fill a wartime labor shortage, of whom more than 1,100 died, Reuters reported.
The formal apology is believed to be the first by a Japanese company. Acting independently of the Japanese government, which already offered formal apologies in 2009 and 2010, Mitsubishi said the gesture was prompted by a “deep sense of ethical responsibility for a past tragedy.”
Rabbi Cooper said “We hope this will spur other companies to join in and do the same.”