Photo album features early 20th-century Russian POWs


Hundreds of photos of Russian officers and soldiers taken prisoner during the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago have been published in a special collection that provides a rare glimpse of the men’s lives as POWs.

During the 1904-1905 war, in which Japan and Russia fought for control of Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula, more than 70,000 Russian officers and soldiers were captured and held in 29 camps across Japan.

The album, found in the Russian State Archives of Film and Photo Documents, was compiled by Pierre de Lucy-Fossarieu, then French consul in Kobe, as supplementary material attached to his report on the war.

The consul visited Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, where the first of the 29 prison camps was built.

The collection contains 453 photos showing the everyday lives of prisoners at 21 of the 29 camps, including pictures taken by Japanese prison officials and by the prisoners themselves.

The pictures, for example, show Russian prisoners eating meals, participating in entertainment activities, taking walks, holding funerals for their comrades who died at the camps, and interacting with Japanese living near the facilities.

Many of the photos in the album are being published for the first time.

The album has attracted attention from historians because it shows that France gathered information independently during the Russo-Japanese War.

After Japan and Russia severed diplomatic relations in line with the war, diplomatic officials of France, an ally of Russia, monitored whether the prisoners were being treated properly under the conventions of war that were in place at that time.

The photos of the prisoners’ ordinary lives suggest that Japan tried to treat the Russian officers and soldiers in accordance with international law, analysts said.

After the war, the French consul’s report was sent to Russia, and the album was kept in the Russian state archives.

The photo album was published thanks to cooperation between Russian archives officials and a Russian-language school in Tokyo, and a total of 500 copies were made, 250 each in Japan and Russia.

Alongside the original French photo captions, Japanese or Russian translations and notes have been added.

The pictures in the collection visibly confirm that the Russo-Japanese War was the last fight of gentlemen under international laws, said Elena Koloskova, an official in the Russian archives.