What Japanese Journalists Witnessed

What Japanese Journalists Witnessed

Executions After Executions

Persons executed by Japanese soldiers in Ku Ling Temple. Photo taken by an American missionary, Ernest Forster.

Persons executed by Japanese soldiers in Ku Ling Temple. Photo taken by an American missionary, Ernest Forster.

Due to the Imperial Army’s media censorship, though there were over 100 Japanese journalists in Nanking when the city was captured, those journalists did not dare to write anything “unfavorable” about their countrymen. [41]

Knowing that any atrocity story wouldn’t make news in Japan, the journalists instead described how “valorous” the Imperial troops were in combat inside and outside the walled city.

Accordingly the newspaper articles during and after the siege of Nanking were full of tales of the Japanese soldier’s heroic exploits. [42]

After the war, however, some of the journalists confided what they had witnessed. A special correspondent for Tokyo Asahi, Imai Masatake, for instance, reported only about the “majestic and soul-stirring” ceremony of the triumphal entry of General Matsui Iwane, the commander-in-chief of the Central China Area Army, and his troops into the city on December 17, 1937. But two days before the victory parade, he revealed in 1956, he witnessed a mass execution of 400 to 500 Chinese men near Tokyo Asahi’s Nanking office.

That evening Imai and his colleague also saw a “long, long” procession of hundreds or even thousands of Chinese people being led to the banks of the Yangtze near Xiaguan (Hsiakwan) riverfront. Convinced that all of them were going to be killed, they tried to follow the procession but were stopped by a sentry. Imai recalled a conversation he had with his partner while hearing the sound of bullets ricocheting nearby. A part of the article he wrote for a magazine years later read:

“While we saw what they were doing near the bureau, there was a car passing through,” said Nakamura.

“Yeah, I saw some foreigners on it.”

“I guess they were from China’s Red Swastika Society. This news will leak out to Geneva for sure.”

“I wish I could write about it.”

“Someday we will, but not for the time being. But we sure saw it.”

“Let’s go take a look again, with our own eyes.”

With that, two of us got up. The sound of gunfire had ceased by then. [43]

Chinese prisoners of war being led by Japanese troops.

Chinese prisoners of war being led by Japanese troops.

Although the reporter apparently mistook the Red Swastika Society for an organization somehow related to the Red Cross, they guessed right about the news circulating around the world.

Another Tokyo Asahi reporter, Adachi Kazuo, also saw a mass murder near the paper’s branch office with his colleague, Moriyama Yoshio. “The ‘plain-clothes soldiers’ were shot to death one after another, right in front of their wives and children, who were weeping and screaming,” wrote Adachi in 1975 in a memorial on Moriyama’s death.

“Our hearts were trembling with anger and grief while people in Japan were probably rejoicing over the collapse of Nanking.” Adachi also quoted Moriyama as saying at the scene, “With this, Japan has lost the right to win the war.” [44]

A correspondent for Tokyo Nichi Nichi, Suzuki Jiro, encountered a few execution scenes and later wrote:

“When I went back to the Zhongshan Gate, I saw, for the first time, an unearthly, brutal massacre. On top of the wall, about 25 meters [85 feet] high, the prisoners of war were rounded up in a line. They were being stabbed by bayonets and shoved away off the wall. A number of Japanese soldiers polished their bayonets, shouted to themselves once [to raise their morale], and thrust their bayonets in the chest or back of the POWs.

I saw about ten stragglers bound by wire to a big tree…. One of them [Japanese soldiers] stood up in front of them [Chinese captives], shouted, “You killed our buddies!” and raised the pickax, then swung it down to the head of a powerless prisoner of war.” [45]

Matsumoto Shigeharu, the Shanghai bureau chief of Domei News Agency, interviewed his ex-colleagues, Arai Masayoshi, Maeda Yuji and Fukazawa Kanzo, who spent a few days as correspondents in Nanking after the capture of the city. According to his book, all of the interviewees told Matsumoto that they saw a number of charred bodies around Xiaguan area, probably between 2,000 and 3,000 dead bodies, on the 16th and 17th.

"I believe only what I saw," says a former Tokyo Nichi Nichi photographer, Sato Shinju

“I believe only what I saw,” says a former Tokyo Nichi Nichi photographer, Sato Shinju.

Maeda personally saw new recruits executing Chinese POWs with bayonets. After having seen 12 or 13 of them being “stabbed to death,” he retched and left the place. Maeda also heard that the Japanese troops were carrying out extensive mopping-up operations on the 14th and 15th. But he also remembered that the streets were becoming normal around the 20th.

Matsumoto noted that his interviewees all pointed out the difficulty at the time of distinguishing “massacre” and “extension of combat.” His interviewees dismissed the so-called “Great Massacre” of hundreds of thousands of people. Instead, the three journalists gave him an estimate of the civilian death toll at ten or twenty thousand. [46]

A Domei newsreel cameraman, Asai Tatsuzo, stated a similar notion when interviewed for a magazine article, “I thought executing plain-clothes soldiers and stragglers was what the war was all about.” [47]

Sato Shinju, a photographer for Tokyo Nichi Nichi newspaper, saw a mass execution of about 200 Chinese soldiers but also dismisses the “massacre of 200,000 or 300,000 civilians.” “I believe only what I saw,” says Sato in an interview for this documentary. “Surely I witnessed a mass murder once, but I also saw some makeshift food stands and street vendors in the Safety Zone. There might have been some atrocities, but I can’t believe such a high death toll.” [48]

Living Soldiers: What A Japanese Novelist Observed

A Japanese soldier on sentry duty. March 1938.

A Japanese soldier on sentry duty. March 1938.

Probably the most contemporary account of Imperial troops’ atrocities given by a Japanese national at the time was a fictional novel titled Ikiteiru Heitai or Living Soldiers, written in February 1938.

The author, Ishikawa Tatsuzo, later said that he was frustrated by the “conventionally identical news articles” from the China theater and had been wanting to see the war with his own eyes when afforded an opportunity to become a special correspondent for a magazine, Chuo Koron, in December 1937. Ishikawa left Tokyo on the Christmas day and arrived in Nanking on January 5, 1938, three weeks after the city was taken over by the Japanese troops.

During his eight days of field research in Nanking, Ishikawa got acquainted with the soldiers from the 33rd Infantry Regiment of the 16th Division. Soon Ishikawa came up with a story featuring a fictional platoon whose march toward Nanking was clearly based on the unit.

Unlike many heroic characters appearing in general wartime stories and news articles in Japan, in Ishikawa’s Ikiteiru Heitai [Living Soldiers] the main characters such as Privates Hirao and Kondo, Sergeant Kasahara, and Second Lieutenant Kurata, were absorbed in the reality of war. They engaged in whimsical killings, looting, rape, and arson throughout their march. [49] The following passage is one of those fickle acts his characters often commit in the story:

Hirao grabbed her by the collar and pulled her up, but she didn’t let go of the dead body of her mother until one of the soldiers twisted her arm and pulled the body away. The soldiers hauled the girl outside, her legs dragging on the ground.

Hirao screamed like a madman, raised his bayonet and stabbed the girl in the chest three times. The other soldiers also took their daggers and began stabbing her head, abdomen, and other parts indiscriminately.

She was dead within ten seconds. When she collapsed like a futon [pile of bedclothes] onto the dark ground, the warm smell of fresh blood wafted up to the flushed faces of the excited soldiers.

In the trench Second Lieutenant Kurata was aware of what was going on but did not say a word. When the excited soldiers came back to the trench spitting, Sergeant Kasahara was sitting cross-legged on the bottom of the trench smoking. He muttered with a detectable smile on his lips, “What a waste, indeed!” [50]

Japanese soldiers who quartered in the Pacific Ocean restaurant in Nanking. March 17, 1938.

Japanese soldiers who quartered in the Pacific Ocean restaurant in Nanking. March 17, 1938.

The story was published in Chuo Koron March issue on February 17, 1938. And the very next day, the Ministry of Interior prohibited the sale of the magazine on the grounds that Ishikawa’s story “deliberately slandered the Imperial Army troops in the holy war” and was thus “improper in view of the state of affairs.” In August Ishikawa and his editor were indicted.

“People regard the soldiers at the front as someone like god and think there will be a heaven after they occupy the land,” testified Ishikawa in court. “People think Chinese civilians are cooperating with us to create the land of Perfect Bliss, but war is nothing like that at all. I believed it was of absolute necessity to let people know what war truly means, realize the situation is an emergency and prepare for what we are dealing with.”

In April 1939 Ishikawa was sentenced to four months in confinement suspended for three years. After being obscure for years, Ikiteiru Heitai [Living Soldiers] finally saw the light of day again a few months after Japan lost the Pacific War in 1945. [51]

Go back to: Table of Contents


  1. Shinichi Kusamori, “Fukyoka Shashin Ron: Houkoku no Shashin 2 [An Essay on Disapproved Photographs: Journalistic Photos on Japan 2],” in Mainichi Shinbun Hizou Fukyoka Shashin 2 [Stashed Photographs in Mainichi Newspaper: the Disapproved 2], (Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbun, 1999), 177-178.
  2. Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 15-18.
  3. Masatake Imai, “Nanking Shinai no Tairyo Satsujin [Mass Murders in the City of Nanjing],” in Mokugekisha ga Kataru Showashi 5: Nichi Chu Senso [Showa History Told by Witnesses 5: Sino-Japanese War], 48-58.
  4. Quoted in Honda, 239.
  5. Quoted in Yutaka Yoshida, Tenno no Guntai to Nanking Jiken [The Emperor’s Military and the Nanjing Incident], 117.
  6. Matsumoto, 251-252.
  7. Masaaki Tanaka, Nanking Jiken no Sokatsu: Gyakusatsu Hitei 15 no Ronkyo [The Nanjing Incident Overview: Fifteen Reasons To Deny the Massacre] (Tokyo: Kenkosha, 1987), 232.
  8. Shinju Sato, interview by author, Fujisawa (Kanagawa Prefecture), Japan, 28 February 2000.
  9. Kazutoshi Hando, “Ikiteiru Heitai no Jidai [The Age of ‘Living Soldiers’],” in Tatsuzo Ishikawa, Ikiteiru Heitai [Living Soldiers] (Reprint, Tokyo: Chuko Bunko, 1999), 204; Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 19-21.
  10. Ishikawa, 85-86.
  11. Hando, 201-208.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.

The Safety Zone and American Missionaries

The Safety Zone and American Missionaries

The Nanking Safety Zone

Members of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone. December 1937.

Members of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone. December 1937.

In mid-November 1937, as the Japanese air raid on Nanking intensified, many wealthy Chinese and Westerners began leaving the city.

Especially after Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek officially declared that the Nationalist government of China would eventually transfer the capital from Nanking to Chungking and its military headquarters would be shifted to the transitional capital of Hankow on November 20, the scale of evacuation became much larger. [52]

Following the departing Chinese government, most foreigners also decided to leave the city. A small number of Western businessmen and missionaries, however, chose to remain in the future battlefield. They were primarily American missionaries from the Episcopal, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches. [53]

On November 22, 1937, trusting their privileged status as third-party nationals, those remaining foreigners voluntarily organized a committee called the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone to provide Chinese people with refuge and relief.

They elected a German businessman of Siemens China Corporation, John Rabe, as its chair presumably for not only his character but also his status as a Nazi (Japan and Germany signed the bilateral Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936).

"Nanking Refugee District [authorized by] the International Committee: REFUGEE CAMPS"

“Nanking Refugee District [authorized by] the International Committee: REFUGEE CAMPS”

“The Chinese authorities agreed to the idea of the Zone, though the military were naturally reluctant to move out of the area before the very last minute,” wrote American missionary Miner Searl Bates, a professor of History at the University of Nanking and a member of the International Committee, in April 1938.

“The Japanese authorities never formally recognized the Zone, but did say that they would not attack an area which was not occupied by Chinese troops. On this narrow margin of agreement, the Chinese promise to evacuate the area and the Japanese statement that they would not intentionally attack an unoccupied place, the Safety Zone was finally put through.” [54]

The Nanking Safety Zone was established in the western district of the city. It was composed of a score of refugee camps that occupied an area of about 3.4 square miles (8.6 square kilometers). On December 1, 1937, Mayor Ma Chaochun of Nanking met the International Committee and authorized them to take over the city’s administration once he and his staff were evacuated. [55]

The Japanese government issued the statement mentioned by Bates on Dec. 4 and, indeed, the Army did not subject the Safety Zone to concentrated air bombardment or shelling. Only a few shells landed in the Zone throughout the siege, which wounded some 40 refugees. [56]

Although the Committee’s proposal for a three-day armistice on Dec. 9 never materialized (see Introduction), the remaining Westerners, as well as local Chinese residents, thought the strains of war would be over and their lives would be secure once the Japanese troops took over the city.

However, when Chinese defense finally collapsed and the Japanese troops made their way into the city on Dec. 13, as Bates later noted, their hopes were “doomed to disappointment.”

Struggle against the Atrocities

A pond filled with corpses. "This is a scene typical of many of the ponds inside the city after the occupation of the city by the Japanese," noted Forster.

A pond filled with corpses. “This is a scene typical of many of the ponds inside the city after the occupation of the city by the Japanese,” noted Forster.

“If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it,” wrote the committee chairman Rabe in his diary on that day.

“They [Japanese soldiers] smash open windows and doors and take whatever they like…. I watched with my own eyes as they looted the café of our German baker Herr Kiessling…. Of the perhaps one thousand disarmed soldiers that we had quartered at the Ministry of Justice, between 400 and 500 were driven from it with their hands tied. We assume they were shot since we later heard several salvos of machine-gun fire. These events have left us frozen with horror.” [57]

As the entering Japanese soldiers wreaked havoc, more and more people rushed into the refugee camps inside the Safety Zone, raising its population to an overwhelming 200,000 – 250,000. Day after day the members of the International Committee received reports about wholesale pillage, arson, rape, whimsical murder and mass execution, which kept them completely busy for the next six or seven weeks.

Rabe and American missionary Lewis S. C. Smythe, who was also a professor of Sociology at the University of Nanking and the secretary of the International Committee, recorded atrocities of the Japanese troops and reported to the Japanese embassy repeatedly.

They and other Committee members frequently contacted Consul-General Okazaki Katsuo, Second Secretary (later Acting Consul-General) Fukui Kiyoshi and Attaché Fukuda Tokuyasu to deal with the anarchic situation. [58]

"After having been beaten by a Japanese soldier with an iron bar, this 13-year-old boy was bayoneted in the head," noted Magee.

“After having been beaten by a Japanese soldier with an iron bar, this 13-year-old boy was bayoneted in the head,” noted Magee.

Dr. Robert Wilson and Dr. C. S. Trimmer, medical doctors at the American-administered University Hospital, had to treat numerous patients and go through surgical operations every day without running water and electricity for weeks as a consequence of rape, torture and bayonet practices with Chinese POWs by the Japanese soldiers. Reverend James McCallum kept the hospital running as the administrator of the institution.

Rev. John Magee, the chairman of the International Red Cross Nanking Branch, also took care of the wounded at the hospital and filmed some of them with his 16mm movie camera to visually record the atrocities.

Another missionary, Willhelmina Vautrin, or Minnie Vautrin as called by her colleagues, protected thousands of women from being raped as she oversaw the refugee camp at Ginling Women’s Arts and Science College where she served as the acting president. [59]

As well as protesting to the Japanese embassy on almost daily basis, Bates, Magee and George A. Fitch, the head of the YMCA at Nanking, actively wrote of the chaotic conditions created by the Japanese troops, mimeographed or retyped their stories over and over and sent them to their friends, government officials, and Christian organizations so as to let the world, especially the American public, know what was going on in the terrorized city.

They hoped that the U. S. government would intervene, or at least apply the Neutrality Act of 1937 to the “China Incident,” which would have made it illegal for any American business to sell war materials to Japan.

Refugees in the University of Nanking. March 1938.

Refugees in the University of Nanking. March 1938.

A letter of Bates to the American Consul in January 1938, for instance, explained how the Safety Zone had been “tenaciously maintained” and needed help “amid dishonor by soldiers, murdering, wounding, wholesale raping, resulting in violent terror.” [60]

Fitch succeeded in smuggling the films shot by Magee out of China when he temporarily left the country in January 1938. That year he traveled throughout the United States, giving speeches about what he witnessed in Nanking along with the films that showed haunting images of Chinese victims. [61]

In the United States the Committee on the Far East of the Foreign Missions Conference received scores of letters from those missionaries in Nanking. After weeks of consideration, they decided to release the letters in February 1938 despite the possible adverse effect on the Christian movement in Japan, which led to the eventual publication of their letters in some magazines such as Readers’ Digest in mid-1938. [62]

Some of their vivid accounts of the Nanking Atrocities in the official documents, protests, letters and diaries were also collected in such books as H. J. Timperley’s What War Means (in America it was titled Japanese Terror in China), Hsü Shuhsi’s The War Conduct of the Japanese in 1938, and another work by Hsü, Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone, in 1939, which promoted China’s cause in the war to the world.

After the War

Refugees who gathered at the headquarters of the International Committee to receive the first cash relief. February 1938.

Refugees who gathered at the headquarters of the International Committee to receive the first cash relief. February 1938.

In 1946, the year after Japan lost the Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East convened in Tokyo to try Japan’s Class-A war crime suspects.

Among the members of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone who took the witness stand were Robert Wilson, Miner Searle Bates and John Magee. George A. Fitch, Lewis Smythe and James McCallum filed affidavits with their diaries and letters. One of the books by Hsü, Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone, was also adduced in court. [63]

Had it not been for those American missionaries, the tribunal and the world would never have known of the cruel nature and inconceivable scale of the Nanking Atrocities as we know today (see also Postwar Judgment).

However, in China during the Korean War (1950-53) those available records of the International Committee members were negatively used in an attempt by the Chinese government to arouse patriotism against the United States. In the propaganda campaign many missionaries were stigmatized as Americans who sacrificed Chinese people’s lives to protect their property, who guided the Imperial Army of Japan into the city and who cooperated with the Japanese troops to round up prisoners of war in the refugee camps.

As its after-effect, even the extensive study on the topic done by the researchers at the University of Nanking in 1962 argued that Westerners assisted the invaders in executing Chinese in Nanking. The research blamed those foreigners for not having any intention to prevent the ongoing atrocities. [64]

Yale Divinity School Library holds many of the personal letters and diaries written by the missionaries.

Yale Divinity School Library holds many of the personal letters and diaries written by the missionaries.

This erroneous perception of the members of the International Committee in China evidently reversed in the 1980s as more historical documents became accessible and more thorough studies came out. Today many of the missionaries’ private diaries and letters that elaborately depicted the scale and character of the Nanking Atrocities are collected at the Yale Divinity School Library.

“Basically, there are two types of people [who often visit the library]. Scholarly researchers who are trying to do serious research and there are other people who are making documentaries of various kinds,” said Martha Smalley, the archivist at the Yale Divinity School Library.

“I think we’ve never had Japanese ultra-nationalists come here and look at these records because it is very clear to anyone, looking at these records, that it [the Nanking Atrocities] occurred. You have several different people giving independent accounts and they were all documenting the same events. There could not possibly be any kind of way that they were making up what they saw….”

“They [the missionaries] were not particularly complimentary about the Chinese Army, either. But they were reacting towards the events that happened to actual people, women and children…. They were not making any kind of political statements at all. In these letters they were talking about the specific events that happened…. Many of them were educational missionaries. They were professors in the university and they were just trying to help the people.” [65]

Go back to: Table of Contents


  1. Tokushi Kasahara, Nanking Nanminku no Hyakunichi [One Hundred Days in the Nanking Safety Zone] (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1995), 60.
  2. Tien-wei Wu, in the preface of American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre 1937-1938, ed. Martha L. Smalley (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale Divinity School Library, 1997), ii.
  3. American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre 1937-1938, 11.
  4. Timothy Brook, “Introduction: Documenting the Rape of Nanking,” in Documents on the Rape of Nanking, 3.
  5. Kasahara, Nanking Nanminku no Hyakunichi [One Hundred Days in the Nanking Safety Zone], 72; “Terror in Nanking,” the Times (London); Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 83-84.
  6. Rabe, 67-68.
  7. Most of the official documents were printed in Hsü Shuhsi, Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1939). The entire book is reprinted in Documents of the Rape of Nanking.
  8. American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre 1937-1938, 2-10; Kasahara, Nanking Nanminku no Hyakunichi [One Hundred Days in the Nanking Safety Zone], 1-3. See also Wilson’s Diary in Documents of the Rape of Nanking.
  9. Quoted in Paul A. Varg, Missionaries, Chinese, and Diplomats: The American Protestant Missionary Movement in China, 1890-1952 (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1958), 260.
  10. American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre 1937-1938, 4.
    Varg, 258-261. See also “The Sack of Nanking,” Readers’ Digest (July 1938): 28-31 and “We Were In Nanking,” Readers’ Digest (October 1938): 41-44.
  11. Arnold C. Brackman, The Other Nuremberg: The Untold Story of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials (New York: William Morrow, 1987), 178-180; Brook, 16; Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 33-34; Fujiwara, “‘Tokyo Saiban ni yoru Dechiage’ Setsu koso ga Dechiage [The Theory of ‘Fabrication at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial’ Is the Real Fabrication], in Nanking Daigyakusatsu Hiteiron 13 no Uso [Thirteen lies in the Nanjing Massacre Deniers’ Claims] (Tokyo: Kashiwa Shobo, 1999), 20.
  12. Mark Eykholt, “Aggression, Victimization, and Chinese Historiography of the Nanjing Massacre,” in The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography, ed. Joshua A. Fogel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 24-26.
  13. Martha L. Smalley, interview by author, New Haven, Connecticut, 25 January 2000.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.

What Westerners Witnessed: Letters and Diaries

What Westerners Witnessed: Letters and Diaries

[Note] The following letters, diaries and other documents were selected from various sources. Most of them are available at Yale Divinity School Library. To know about the books that feature those historical documents, see Works Cited.

Robert Wilson, letter to his family on December 14, 1937:

Refugees who gathered to receive the cash relief issued by the International Committee. February 1938.

Refugees who gathered to receive the cash relief issued by the International Committee. February 1938.

On Monday morning the 13th, exactly four months after the trouble started in Shanghai, the Japanese entered the city by several gates at one. Some came in Hoping Men [Gate] in the north and some in Hansi and Kwanghua Mens in the west and south-east respectively. By night they had complete control of the city and numerous Japanese flags flew from various places including their former embassy. The entire remaining population of Nanking, some 150,000 or 200,000 thousand individuals, were crowded into the zone….

A civilian who shows no sign of fear and goes about his business in the daytime seems relatively safe. No one is safe at night… any civilian that shows signs of fear or tries to run away is promptly bayoneted. I sewed up one severed trachea this afternoon and we have had several dozen cases of bayoneting.

Minnie Vaurtin, diary on Dec. 13:

The city is strangely silent – after all the bombing and shelling. Three dangers are past – that of looting [Chinese] soldiers, bombing from aeroplanes and shelling from big guns, but the forth is still before us – our fate at the hands of a victorious army. People are very anxious tonight and do not know what to expect…. Tonight [13th] Nanking has no lights, no water, no telephone, no telegraph, no city paper, no radio.

Minnie Vautrin, diary on Dec. 15:

The Japanese have looted widely yesterday and today, have destroyed schools, have killed citizens, and raped women. One thousand disarmed Chinese soldiers, whom the International Committee hoped to save, were taken from them and by this time are probably shot or bayoneted. In our South Hill House Japanese broke the panel of the storeroom and took out some old fruit juice and a few other things. (Open door policy!)

John Rabe, diary on Dec. 15:

Yale Divinity School Library has a large collection of the documents relating to the Nanking Atrocities.

Yale Divinity School Library has a large collection of the documents relating to the Nanking Atrocities.

No sooner am I back in my office at Committee Headquarters, than my boy arrives with bad news – the Japanese have returned and now have 1,300 refugees tied up. Along with Smythe and Mills I try to get these people released, but to no avail. They are surrounded by about 100 Japanese soldiers and, still tied up, are led off to be shot…. It’s hard to see people driven off like animals. But they say that Chinese shot 2,000 Japanese prisoners in Tsinanfu, too. We hear by way of the Japanese Navy that the gunboat U.S.S. Pany, on which the officials of the American embassy had sought safety, has been accidentally bombed and sunk by the Japanese.

Robert Wilson, letter to his family, Dec. 15:

The slaughter of civilians is appalling. I could go on for pages telling of cases or rape and brutality almost beyond belief. Two bayoneted cases are the only survivors of seven street cleaners who were sitting in their headquarters when Japanese soldiers came in without warning or reason and killed five of their number and wounded the two that found their way to the hospital.

Robert Wilson, letter to his family, Dec. 18:

Today marks the sixth day of the modern Dante’s Inferno, written in huge letters with blood and rape. Murder by the wholesale and rape by the thousands of cases. There seems to be no stop to the ferocity, lust and atavism of the brutes…. Last night the house of one of the Chinese staff members of the university was broken into and two of the women, his relatives, were raped. Two girls about 15 were raped to death in one of the refugee camps…. They [Japanese soldiers] bayoneted one little boy, killing him, and I spent an hour and a half this morning patching up another little boy of eight who had five bayonet wounds including one that penetrated his stomach, a portion of omentum was outside the abdomen. I think he will live.

James McCallum, letter to his family, Dec. 19:

It is a horrible story to relate; I know not where to begin nor to end. Never have I heard or read of such brutality. Rape: Rape: Rape: We estimate at least 1,000 cases a night and many by day. In case of resistance or anything that seems like disapproval there is a bayonet stab or a bullet. We could write up hundreds of cases a day; people are hysterical; they get down on their knees and “Kowtow” any time we foreigners appear; they beg for aid. Those who are suspected of being soldiers as well as others, have been led outside the city and shot down by hundreds, yes, thousands.

John Magee, letter to his wife, Dec. 19:

A farmer who was just treated for gunshot wounds inflicted by Japanese troops. March 1938.

A farmer who was just treated for gunshot wounds inflicted by Japanese troops. March 1938.

The Horror of the last week is beyond anything I have ever experienced. I never dreamed that the Japanese soldiers were such savages. It has been a week of murder and rape, worse, I imagine, than has happened for a very long time unless the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks was comparable. They not only killed every prisoner they could find but also a vast number of ordinary citizens of all ages…. Just day before yesterday we saw a poor wretch killed very near the house where we are living.

Miner Searle Bates, letter to Japanese embassy, Dec. 21:

In accordance with your request this morning, I submit the following facts, most of which have been observed by myself since I saw you, and the reminder I have carefully investigated after they were told me by reliable people.

[Nine cases of rape, looting and forcing labor are described]

I feel sure that not so many people were raped or wounded last night as the night before. But the robbery, illegal entry, and terrible burning continues as bas or worse than before. Two members of the International Committee who have driven several miles in a car have not yet seen a gendarme. They are not effective. If the generals intend to destroy the people’s homes and take away their last food and clothing, it is better to say so honestly than to deceive them and us with false hopes of orders….

Miner Searle Bates, letter to Japanese embassy, Dec. 23:

I have tried for a couple of days to refrain from troubling you further. However, many difficulties occur every day, and today they are worse than usual. New parties of stray soldiers without discipline or officers are going everywhere stealing, raping, and taking away women. Some cases follow:

  1. Just now soldiers forcibly entered the University and towed away a truck used to supply rice to refugee.
  2. In our Sericulture Building along there are on the average of more than ten cases per day of rape of abducting women.
  3. Our residences continue to be entered day and night by soldiers who injure women and steal everything they wish. This applies to residences in which Americans are now living, just the same as to the others.
  4. Soldiers frequently tear down the proclamations put up by your military police.
  5. This morning an American member of our staff was struck by an officer who suddenly approached him and angrily tried to tear off the armband supplied by your Embassy.
  6. Other buildings not mentioned above are daily entered several times each by soldiers who utterly disregard your proclamations, looking for women and for loot.
  7. Despite this disorder caused entirely by soldiers, we have no guard whatever and no military police have been sent near us.

John Rabe, diary, Dec. 24:

Bodies of executed Chinese in Ku LIng Temple.

Bodies of executed Chinese in Ku LIng Temple.

I have had to look at so many corpses over the last few weeks that I can keep my nerves in check even when viewing these horrible cases. It really doesn’t leave you in a “Christmas” mood; but I wanted to see these atrocities with my own eyes, so that I can speak as an eyewitness later. A man cannot be silent about this kind of cruelty!

Robert Wilson, letter to his family, Dec. 24:

This seems anything but Christmas Eve. It is sort of tough to sit in a small X-ray room to keep Japanese soldiers from looting a hospital in the center of what was a few weeks ago a great city while the rest of my family is scattered all over the globe. My baby will be six months old in four days and I have only seen her for seven weeks of that time….

One of the two burned wretches died this morning but the other is still hanging on fro a while. Bates went over this afternoon to a place described as the scene of the burning and found the charred bodies of the poor devils. And now they tell us that there are twenty thousand soldiers still in the Zone, (where they get their figures no one knows), and that they are going to hunt them out and shoot them all. That will mean every able-bodied male between the ages of 18 and 50 that is now in the city. How can they every look anybody in the face again?

Minnie Vautrin, Diary, Dec. 26:

All the refugees on University campus registered today. We shall probably go through the same process in a day or two, so tonight I started Mr. Chen making a list. Weather still clear and warm during the day. We still have no news of outside world, and, as far as we know, they have no news of us excepting that furnished by Domei. This will be a year without Christmas. Did not even have time to think of my friends.

Miner Searle Bates, letter to Japanese embassy, Dec. 27:

The life of the whole people is filled with suffering and fear – all caused by soldiers. Your officers have promised them protection, but the soldiers every day injure hundreds of persons most seriously. A few policemen help certain places, and we are grateful for them. But that does not bring peace and order. Often it merely shifts the bad acts of the soldiers to nearby buildings where there are no policemen. Does not the Japanese Army care for its reputation? Do not Japanese officers wish to keep their public promises that they do not injure the common people? While I have been writing this letter, a soldier has forcibly taken a woman from one of our teachers’ houses, and with his revolver refused to let an American enter. Is this order?

Ernest Forster, letter to his wife, Dec. 28:

Young refugees in the Ginling Women's Arts and Science College.

Young refugees in the Ginling Women’s Arts and Science College.

They are still scared as stray soldiers are still looting and raping, and men suspected of having been soldiers are still being executed. But it is still much better in many respects than it has been and we are no end thankful…. The problem of finding food for so many is getting very acute. We hare that farmers outside the city are destitute, too, since their grain, farm animals and implements are largely gone. Fires are still being set in some sections of the city, so the southern part is mostly ruin. No plea on the ground of humanity seems to be of any avail. Don’t worry about us. We are O.K.

John Rabe, diary, Dec. 28:

He [Fukui Kiyoshi of the Japanese embassy] also informs me that our Zone has now been surrounded by Japanese guards, who will see to it that no prowling soldiers are allowed into the Zone. I’ve now had a better look at these guards and discovered that they did not stop and interrogate a single Japanese soldier. I even saw soldiers carrying looted items out of the Zone, and with absolutely no questions asked by the guards. What sort of protection is that?

James McCallum, letter to his family, Dec. 29:

We have met some very pleasant Japanese who have treated us with courtesy and respects. Others have been very fierce and threatened us, striking or slapping some. Mr. Riggs has suffered most at their hands. Occasionally have I seen a Japanese helping some Chinese or pick up a Chinese baby and play with it. More than one Japanese soldier told me he did not like war and wished he were back home. Altho’ the Japanese Embassy staff has been cordial and tried to help us out, they have been helpless. But soldiers with a conscience are few and far between.

Robert Wilson, letter to his family, January 1, 1938:

A three-day holiday was declared though no one knew just what to do about it. There aren’t any shops to close. They apparently imported or resurrected countless firecrackers that have been popping off all day. The soldiers feel that it is the time to get drunk and go on rampages. After several days of comparative quiet the raping broke out afresh.

Minnie Vautrin, diary, Jan. 2:

A Japanese Christian who brought some soap, towels, and biscuits for the refugees on February 20, 1938.

A Japanese Christian who brought some soap, towels, and biscuits for the refugees on February 20, 1938.

Warm, bright sunshine day. What a blessing for those whose homes have been burned and those whose building has been looted. As rice was being served this morning a car drove in with three elderly Japanese women, who were representatives of a Women’s National Defense Organization. They did not make many comments but seemed interested in looking about. How I wish I could speak Japanese in order to explain something of what these refugees have suffered.

James McCallum, letter to his family, Jan. 3:

I must report a good deed done by some Japanese. Recently several very nice Japanese have visited the hospital. We told them of our lack of food supplies for the patients. Today they brought in 100 chin of beans along with some beef. We have had no meat at the hospital for a month and these gifts were mighty welcome. They asked what else we would like to have. But each day has a long list of bad reports. A man was killed near the relief headquarters yesterday afternoon. In the afternoon a Japanese soldier attempted to rape a woman; her husband interfered and helped her resist. But in the afternoon the soldier returned to shoot the husband.

Robert Wilson, letter to his family, Jan. 6:

Three more busy days have passed with some new developments but beyond the gradual quieting down of the troops there is little to report. This morning three members of the American diplomatic service returned. Mr. Allison, who was formerly in Tsinan, and has been a guest here since we took up residence in the Buck house, is now the American consul.

James McCallum, letter to his family, Jan. 6:

The biggest news of the day has just come. The American Consular representatives told us that the families of McCallum, Trimmer, Mills, and Smythe left Hankow for Hong Kong on the 30th. He also delivered some letters of yours written the last of November. It is the first news or mail we’ve received for more than a month and how welcome it was! …. The loss of life has been appalling. Men, women and children of all ages have paid a terrible price. Why does war have to be so beastly?

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