August 25, 1942 – Arrival of first prisoner exchange via the Gripsholm – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
August 25, 1942, a day that most likely passed by unnoticed by many at the time, but it was significant because, on this day in 1942, the first Prisoner exchange took place between Japan and the Allies during World War 2.
No easy diplomatic feat, and sadly only two such voyages took place, the Swedish Passenger liner Gripsholm, repurposed to carry primarily non-combatants, diplomats and families who were caught up in the confusion of war and detained by the respective governments until negotiations were undertaken by neutral parties (in this case, Spain for Japan and Switzerland for the Allies) or until the war was over.
Together with the Gripsholm’s sister ship The Drottingham, the first set of some 1,097 exchanges began in June 18 of 1942 with initial lists drawn up by the governments of Japan, Germany and the U.S. of who would be part of the prisoner exchange. For the Japanese, it was primarily diplomats or businessmen and their families who were stuck in the U.S. when war broke out. After a brief stop in Rio de Janiero to pick up another 400, the Gripsholm sailed to Laurenco Marques in Mozambique where they were traded for 1554 Allied prisoners and their families who had been picked up in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam and dropped off in Mozambique to be picked up by the Gripsholm, while the Japanese prisoners were to be picked up by the Japanese and taken back to Japan via the Asamu Maru and Conte Verde.
The Gripsholm arrived in New York Harbor on August 25th, containing numerous diplomats as well as journalists who were mostly trapped either in Hong Kong or Tokyo when war broke out.
There would be one other voyage, after another set of complicated negotiations, in 1943 making for a total of around 3,000 prisoners exchanged. After that the war was going decidedly in the Allies favor, coupled with the Allied sinking of the Japanese hospital ship Awa Maru in 1945 and no more exchanges happened.
Here is an interview with three of the recent returnees, all journalists – and more than a little censorship for this initial arrival on August 25, 1942.
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