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Bureau discarded rosters of conscripted Korean laborers exposed to A-bomb

Kim Song-su, center, describes what it was like when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, in this Dec. 7, 2016 file photo taken near the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works in the city of Nagasaki. (Mainichi)

NAGASAKI -- The Justice Ministry's local bureau here has discarded the name lists of approximately 3,400 people originally from the Korean Peninsula who are believed to have been exposed to the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of this city, making it difficult for survivors to apply for medical benefits, it has been learned.

The Nagasaki District Legal Affairs Bureau acknowledged that it has disposed of the rosters of the some 3,400 Koreans who were conscripted as laborers at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagasaki Shipyard in the city of Nagasaki during World War II. The bureau made the acknowledgement in response to an inquiry by a support group for the former laborers.

While the rosters could serve as a compelling evidence in proving the former workers' exposure to the Aug. 9, 1945 Nagasaki atomic bombing when they apply for the Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificate, the Korean survivors had their applications turned down as their rosters were nowhere to be found.

"The government deprived them of their right to receive government assistance as A-bomb survivors," a representative of the support group said.

After the war, businesses that had unpaid wages and retirement allowances for former workers who returned to the Korean Peninsula deposited the corresponding amounts with local legal affairs bureaus alongside their rosters. However, when a group of three former Korean laborers in their 90s applied for the Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificate between 2014 and 2015, the Nagasaki Municipal Government turned their requests down on the grounds that their rosters could not be found. "There are no records of them having been conscripted as laborers," the city told them.

In May this year, the Network for Research on Forced Labor Mobilization, a Kobe-based citizens group supporting the three former workers, began negotiations with the Nagasaki District Legal Affairs Bureau demanding that the bureau specify the whereabouts of the rosters. In July, the bureau responded in writing that the rosters "were discarded as of Aug. 31, 1970, after the retention period expired at the end of March that year."

According to the bureau's statement and other sources, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries deposited a total of 859,770.78 yen with the bureau as outstanding payments to 3,418 former laborers on June 2, 1948. However, the money was contributed to state coffers in 1959 on the grounds of an expiration of the statute of limitations.

In 1958, the Justice Ministry notified its district legal affairs bureaus that the money payable to former laborers from the Korean Peninsula be retained without contributing it to the state coffers even after the 10-year statute of limitations expires. The notice also requires local legal bureaus to preserve related documents even if the money had already been redirected to government coffers.

Based on this ministry directive, the support group accused the Nagasaki District Legal Affairs Bureau of "violating the notice."

A written response by the Nagasaki District Legal Affairs Bureau to a citizens group supporting former Korean laborers in Japan is seen. (Mainichi)

In response to a Mainichi Shimbun query, the Nagasaki District Legal Affairs Bureau stated, "In reference to the existing resources, it cannot be confirmed that the discarded name lists concerned the deposits of money payable to Korean laborers." However, the support group identified the rosters scrapped by the bureau to be those for the deposits of money owed to former Korean workers because the date and amounts of the deposits matched those listed in an investigative report filed by the former Ministry of Labor regarding the outstanding payments to former Korean workers, which the group has obtained.

Kim Song-su, 91, one of the three former Korean laborers whose applications for the A-bomb survivor's certificate were rejected, denounced the shoddy handling of information by Japanese authorities.

"Had there been the name lists, I would have been able to obtain the A-bomb survivor's certificate. I want the legal affairs bureau and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to take responsibility," he said.

Kim arrived in Japan in 1938 to work at a confectionery in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture, but was subsequently conscripted at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagasaki Shipyard in 1943. He was exposed to the atomic bomb in 1945 at the shipyard about 4 kilometers from the hypocenter while working as a loft man. On Aug. 17, two days after the war ended in Japan, he returned to his hometown in the southern Korean Peninsula by a wooden ship.

After the war, Kim worked as a confectioner in South Korea while not knowing he was eligible for assistance from the Japanese government as an A-bomb survivor. It was when the South Korean government queried him about the wartime requisition that he learned about the A-bomb survivor's certificate system. He later applied for the certificate with the Nagasaki city hall in March 2015. While the Japanese government requires applicants to provide testimony from at least two third-party individuals as well as public documents to prove their exposure to atomic bombs, Kim couldn't find them as 70 years had already passed since the bombing.

Now a resident of Busan, South Korea, Kim visited Nagasaki again in December 2015 for the first time since the war's end and testified about the situation at the time of the bombing to city employees while walking around the Mitsubishi shipyard with them. However, a notice Kim received from the city in March 2016 stated, "It cannot be verified that you were working at the Nagasaki shipyard on the day the atomic bomb was dropped."

"How come they don't recognize me as an A-bomb survivor, even though I worked so hard for the sake of Japan?" Kim fumed. In September 2016, Kim filed a lawsuit with the Nagasaki District Court demanding that the city grant him the A-bomb survivor's certificate.

Kim has continued the court battle alongside Lee Kwan-mo, 94, and another former fellow Korean laborer, 91, both of whose applications for the A-bomb Survivor's Certificate were also turned down.

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