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Japan's Experiments on U.S. POWs: Exhibit Highlights Horrific History

An Japanese exhibit shines a light on a dark episode in the country’s history — brutal medical experiments conducted on American WWII POWs.
/ Source: NBC News

TOKYO — A new exhibit is shining a light on a horrific episode in Japan's history — brutal medical experiments conducted on American prisoners of war during World War II.

The Kyushu University Medical History Museum exhibit, which opened on Wednesday in southern Japan, showcases 100 years of the medical school’s history and includes one panel explaining the so-called Kyushu Imperial University vivisection experiments.

The display briefly describes the downing of a U.S. B-29 bomber and the aftermath, according to a statement released by the school. Eight surviving crew members were taken to the university to be experimented on live. They endured being injected with sea water, having lungs removed and large amounts of blood extracted. All eight died.

Although a post-war tribunal did not find systematic involvement on the part of university or its medical department, 23 military and university personnel were later found guilty of war crimes. Five were sentenced to death only to be later pardoned at start of the Korean War, according to the university.

The chief of the surgical department who carried out these experiments for the Japanese Imperial Army committed suicide while in prison, according to local reports.

The museum did not immediately release images of the display.

The university said the entire exhibit, which was built with donations collected from former graduates, was intended to confront the past, however difficult.

“In its long history there were incidents which need to be deeply reflected,” according to a statement released by the university. “But we believe that by facing that past objectively, this we lead us to the right path.”

Japan has been criticized for not acknowledging atrocities committed during World War II, including their treatment of prisoners of war.

In February, Japan's Crown Prince spoke about the need to "correctly" remember World War II.

"It is important to look back on the past humbly and correctly," Crown Prince Naruhito said during a press conference marking his 55th birthday. He added that there is a need to "correctly pass down tragic experiences and the history behind Japan to the generations who have no direct knowledge of the war, at the time memories of the war are about to fade."