German POWs in the Siege of Tsingtao

Entrance to the army cemetery in Kutsunoya, Shizuoka City (photo by the author, February 2024).

On April 5, 2024, at the army cemetery located in a residential area about 10 minutes by bus from Shizuoka Station, a ceremony was held to unveil the graves of German soldiers captured during World War I. (Shizuoka Broadcasting Corporation, “Unveiling ceremony and flower offering for the graves of German POWs: It is important to let people know the history“). It is well known that German POWs interacted with people in the area where the camps were located and introduced Western technology and culture. In this issue, we would like to look back a little on the German POWs.

World War I and German POWs

In the mid-19th century, as European countries colonized Asia, Germany also leased the Jiaozhou Bay area in China in 1898 as a naval base in East Asia and built a fortress in Tsingtao. Then, in July 1914, World War I broke out. Japan, seeking to take advantage of this opportunity to expand its influence in East Asia, sided with Great Britain on the grounds of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and declared war on Germany as a member of the Allied Powers.

The war between the Japanese and German forces took place in Tsingtao. The fighting was fierce and many soldiers were killed. In October, at the suggestion of the Germans, the Japanese and Germans temporarily ceased fighting and buried their dead. The Germans lost about 300 (including those who died of disease), and the 4,700 survivors were sent to prisoner-of-war camps around Japan.

POW camp

Initially, 12 POW camps were established, including Kurume, but were later consolidated into six (Kurume, Nagoya, Narashino, Aonohara, Ninoshima, and Bando). Japan, which prided itself on being a first-class country after its victory in the Russo-Japanese War, made every effort to comply with international law and treated prisoners of war well in accordance with the Hague Land War Convention, which prohibited the mistreatment of prisoners of war. German POWs were paid the same salaries as Japanese generals and were compensated for their work. They were also allowed to exchange letters with their families outside Japan.

And the German POWs included civilians with a wide variety of skills: merchants, teachers, musicians, bakers, confectioners, sausage makers, and many others. The German POWs spread their skills and culture to the local population and eventually to the whole country. For example, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which is now sung at the end of the year in Japan, was introduced by German POWs and was first performed in Japan at the Bando Camp in Tokushima. The photo below shows German POWs at Nagoya Camp. They were holding musical instruments and enjoying musical activities.

“Photo albums of prisoners of war in the 1914-1915 war” (大正三四年戦役俘虜写真帖), edited by POW Information Bureau (俘虜情報局), 1918. Holding institution: National Diet Library. Image: National Diet Library Digital Collections.

Memorial for German POWs

“Documents concerning deceased POWs” (死亡俘虜関係). Holding institution: Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (ID: A. Images: Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (Ref.B02032341300). *

Now, let’s take a look at some documents that show what happened at Nagoya Camp. The above document is part of the official records held by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to the document, a memorial service for German POWs who died of illness was held in Nagoya City (名古屋市), Aichi Prefecture, in November 1930. The organiser of the memorial service was Arnold Hahn. He was probably a German teacher at the Aichi Prefectural Medical College.*

The memorial service was held at the army cemetery in Nagoya. German attendees were Hans Werner Rohde, German Consul stationed in Osaka, and 17 Germans living in Nagoya. The Japanese visitors were army soldiers and Kai Tomisaburo, who worked in a dry-cleaning shop.

Who was Kai Tomisaburo? This document states that Kai was in charge of all laundry for the POWs. According to another document in the possession of the National Institute for Defense Studies of the Ministry of Defense (“Regarding POW Labor” (ID: 陸軍省-欧受大日記-T6-14-44)), Kai employed German POWs and had engineers Knibbe Paul, Gass Josef, and Lingner Augusut work on washing machine manufacturing.

Based on documents from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense, it is inferred that Kai may have used a washing machine manufactured by the POWs to wash the POWs’ clothes. Although the document does not detail Kai’s feelings, he must have been saddened by the deaths of the POWs, given that he was named in the memorial service. The graves of the German POWs still exist today in the army cemetery in Nagoya.


Considering that the German POWs were originally brought to a strange land after losing many comrades in fierce battles with the Japanese, it may not be a mere beauty story. On the other hand, it is no exaggeration to say that the technology and culture introduced by the German POWs contributed to the development of Japan. It is also true that the German POWs laid the foundation for Japan-Germany exchange that continues to this day.

For more information on German POWs, please refer to the research by Takehiko Seto. You can also find other new research results by searching for “Germany,” “Qingdao,” and “POWs” in cinii. Some of the papers can be read free of charge. If you are interested, please search for them.

*Nagoya University School of Medicine 150th Anniversary Commemorative Project Preparation Committee. Nagoya University School of Medicine 150 Years of History. Nagoya University School of Medicine, 2021.

Seto Takehiko.”Tsingtau in Schantung im Zusammenhang mit Deutschland und Japan (1) Von der Besetzung der Kiautschou-Bucht bis zum Bau der Stadt Tsingtau.” Research reports of Kochi University. Humanities 44. 1995.
“Tsingtau in Schantung im Zusammenhang mit Deuschland und Japan (2) Der japanisch-Deutsche Krieg und deutsche Gefangene.” Research reports of Kochi University. Humanities 48. 1999.
“Tsingtau in Schantung im Zusammenhang mit Deuschlarnd und Japan (3)Die deutsche Tsingtau-Verwaltung” Research reports of Kochi University. Humanities 49, 2000.
“Tsingtau in Schantung im Zusammenhang mit Deutschland und Japan (4) Von den deutschen und osterreichisch-ungarischen Kriegsgefangenen” Research reports of Kochi University. Humanities 50, 2001.
“Tsingtau in Schantung im Zusammenhang mit Deutschland und Japan (5) : Von den deutschen und osterreichisch-ungarischen Kriegsgefangenen (2)” Research reports of Kochi University. Humanities 52, 2003.
Seto Takehiko. Soldiers from Qingdao : the realities of World War I and German POWs. dogakusha, 2006.
Masahiro Iwa. World War I and the Aonohara German Prisoners of War : Camp Days and Music Activities. Kohjin no Tomosha, 2022.


Dr. Maki is the team leader. She has experience in archives management. Her hobbies are otaku culture (manga, light novels, anime, and video games). The illustrations on this home page are hand-drawn by her.

Japan and Europe


Copied title and URL