German Prisoners of War As “Military Immigrant” and the Meaning of an Occupation: A Forced Global Migration and Subsistence in Locality
In WW1 the global migration occurred, producing numerous POWs. In the Far Eastern front the Japanese Army captured about 5000 German and Austrian soldiers and sent to camps in Japan.
Recently studies on the treatment of POWs during WW1 have made progress. The cases in Europe pointed out their similarities to immigrants or refugees, considering in terms of “military immigrant.” In contrast, while researches on Japanese treatment of POWs clarified their activities in camps and “intercultural contact” with local citizens, it had not yet inquired what significance their “occupation” had on them. Furthermore, factors that motivated them to the Far East in the first place and their activities as regular immigrants in Qingdao, Vladivostok and several Japanese cities have not been paid attention.
While having similarities, there are also differences between POWs and immigrants. Firstly, POWs were forced to move into camps. Global migration of POWs assumes a compulsory character. Secondly, they were compelled to live an idle life, deprived of their occupations. Compulsory works are often seen as negative, yet recent studies revealed POWs of WW1 found the “meaning” of life in such works. This is indeed the case of POWs captured by the Japanese. They worked by original or new occupations, sometimes contributing enemy and enjoying cultural exchange with local people.
There are various aspects in global migration of German POWs and their life in Japan. This paper illustrates how POWs’ subsistence guided them to the Far East and how it developed after being interned, using cases mainly in Matsuyama Camp, located in Ehime, South-West of Japan.