Hong Sa-ik

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Hong Sa-ik
Hong (left seated) at his war crimes trial in 1946
Born(1889-03-04)4 March 1889
Anseong, Gyeonggi-do, Korea
Died26 September 1946(1946-09-26) (aged 59)
Manila, Philippines
Allegiance Empire of Japan
Service/branchWar flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Imperial Japanese Army
Years of service1914-1946
RankLieutenant General
Commands heldImperial Japanese Army
Battles/warsWorld War II
Philippines campaign (1944–45)
Hong Sa-ik
Japanese name
Alternate Japanese name
Kanaこう しよく
Korean name

Hong Sa-ik (hangul 홍사익;hanja 洪思翊; 4 March 1889 – 26 September 1946)[1] was a lieutenant general in the Imperial Japanese Army, and the top-ranking ethnic Korean in Japan to be charged with war crimes relating to the conduct of the Empire of Japan in World War II.


A graduate of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy, Hong was placed in command of the Japanese camps holding Allied (primarily U.S. and Filipino) prisoners of war in the Philippines during the latter part of World War II, where many of the camp guards were of Korean ethnicity.

Hong was held responsible for all the atrocities committed by Imperial Japanese Army prison guards against allied POWs, and was hanged in 1946.[2]

Early career[edit]

Hong, a member of the Namyang Hong clan, was born in 1889 to a yangban family in Anseong, Gyeonggi-do. In 1905, as the Eulsa Treaty was being signed, he entered into the military academy of the Korean Empire. With the abolishment of the academy in 1909, he transferred to Japan's Central Military Preparatory School (陸軍中央幼年学校, Rikugun Chūō Yōnen Gakkō) as a government-financed student along with Crown Prince Yi Eun on the orders of dethroned Emperor Gojong.[citation needed]

Soon after, he advanced to the Imperial Japanese Army Academy. At that time, there were several students from the Empire of Korea enrolled at the military academy, and with the shock of the 1910 annexation of Korea by Japan, a few left the Academy to join in the movements for Korean independence, but most followed the lead of Ji Cheong-cheon, who argued that they should leave to fight only after having studied and developed their skills. A few, such as Hong, attempted to stay aloof from either movement, and largely parted ways with his classmates.[1]

In 1914, Hong graduated in the 26th class of the Academy and was commissioned as a lieutenant into the Imperial Japanese Army, and in 1923 graduated from the Army War College.[citation needed]

Around this time, he was contacted by Ji Cheong-cheon, who had now defected to become the commander of the Korean Liberation Army; Ji invited him to join the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, based in Shanghai, but Hong felt that the time was not right and that other ethnic Korean officers serving in the Japanese Army would suffer if he defected, and thus refused his old friend's invitation.[1]

However, despite this, he secretly maintained his friendship with Ji and other anti-Japanese activists in the Korean Liberation Army, and even supported Ji's family with his own funds, an action which could have put Hong himself in danger if he made even a small mistake.[1]

Rising through the ranks[edit]

With the implementation of the sōshi-kaimei policy, Hong was under strong pressure to change his Korean name to a Japanese-style name, but he ignored the pressure and in the end did not change his name and kept his surname as Hong.

Hong continued to demonstrate exceptional ability and was rapidly promoted through the ranks, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant general. From 1939-40, he was with the China Expeditionary Army. From 1940-41, he was assigned to the 1st Depot Division, and in 1941, he became the commander of the IJA 108th Infantry Brigade as a major general.

In March 1944, he went to the Philippines to command all prisoner-of-war camps. He was promoted to lieutenant general in October of the same year, and remained in the Philippines under the 14th Area Army until the cessation of hostilities.

Trial and execution[edit]

After the war, Hong was tried in Manila before a military tribunal by the Allies over the conduct of his prison guards while he was commandant.[3] The Manila tribunal sentenced Hong to death as a war criminal on 18 April 1946.[4]

While in prison, Hong was reported to have converted to Christianity.[2] He was hanged on 26 September 1946. Before he was executed, he requested the presiding minister to read Psalm 51, a plea by King David for God to wash away the sin of his adultery with Bathsheba.[1]

Later views[edit]

After Korea regained its independence, Hong's family became the target of blame and ostracism by various factions in Korea. His eldest son, Hong Guk-seon, graduated from Japan's Waseda University and afterwards worked in the Bank of Chōsen , but was removed from his position on the orders of Syngman Rhee. He and his mother, Hong's widow, later emigrated to the United States.[5]


  • Yamamoto, Shichihei (October 2006). 洪思翊中将の処刑 (The execution of General Hong Sa Ik). Japan: Chikuma Shobo.
  • Ammenthorp, Steen. "Kou, Shiyoku". The Generals of World War II. Retrieved 6 June 2017.


  1. ^ a b c d e Chun, Young-gi (5 March 2004). "War criminal, general, but still Korean". Joongang Daily. Archived from the original on 24 March 2006. Retrieved 24 November 2006.
  2. ^ a b Kim, Young-Sik, Ph.D. (2003). "The US-Korea relations: 1910–1945: A brief history of the US-Korea relations prior to 1945". Association for Asian Research. Retrieved 25 November 2006.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Trial of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, United States Military Commission Manila
  4. ^ Trial of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, United States Military Commission Manila Archived 8 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Lee Gyu-Tae, quoted by Kim, Young-Sik, Ph.D. (2003). "The US-Korea relations: 1910–1945: A brief history of the US-Korea relations prior to 1945". Association for Asian Research. Retrieved 25 November 2006.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)