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 To know about the books that feature those historical documents, see Works Cited.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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Japanese Soldiers' Diaries

Japanese Soldiers’ Diaries

Prisoners of War at Mufu Mountain

Charred bodies on the Yangtze bank. Photo taken by Murase.

Charred bodies on the Yangtze bank. Photo taken by Murase.

A correspondent for Asahi Newspaper reported that on December 13 and 14, 1937, the Morozumi Unit (the 65th Infantry Regiment of the Yamada Detachment in the 13th Division) took prisoners of 14,777 Chinese soldiers in the vicinity of the artillery fort of Wulong Mountain and Mufu Mountain that lay at the south bank of the Yangtze River.

However, there had been no further follow-up report since then and for decades it was unknown what had become of those prisoners of war.

In Japan one theory told that half of them were released, a quarter of them escaped and the rest started a riot and consequently got killed.

Another theory told that all of the captives were dragged to the banks of the Yangtze and executed.

In the late 1980s, as stated earlier, a chemical factory worker in Japan, Ono Kenji, investigated the incident by interviewing 200 or so war veterans and gathering 24 wartime diaries and other historical materials. [75]

Ono collected 24 wartime diaries in the course of his investigation.

Ono collected 24 wartime diaries in the course of his investigation.

Ono’s research made it clear that the 15,000 captives and additional 2,000 to 3,000 prisoners taken after the 14th were all massacred by military order.

The mass executions of those POWs are possibly the largest in the Nanking Atrocities. They were conducted in two days on the banks of the Yangtze near Mufu Mountain.

The dead bodies were quickly covered with gasoline and burnt. And many corpses were later thrown into the Yangtze River.

Following are some quotes from the confessions Ono videotaped and the diaries he collected.

Upon his and his interviewees’ request, they are all assigned pseudonyms.

Private Kurosu Tadanobu (Pseudonym):

Japanese troops throwing bodies into the Yangtze River. Photo taken by Murase.

Japanese troops throwing bodies into the Yangtze River. Photo taken by Murase.

[Interview on the videotape] I joined the Army two days after I got the draft paper. I was determined to fight, but couldn’t possibly tell my wife that I would most likely die. So I simply told her to keep our house intact. Those drafted for the first time were delighted to serve their country and the Emperor, but I knew that going to the front meant facing death. When I got on the train, I kept thinking that it was the last time to see my brothers and others. I couldn’t help crying. [76]

[His diary on November 25, 1937] Upon arriving the quarters we killed two big pigs. And now we are eating them. War is such fun. Those who like drinking could drink as much as they want. The weather has been, finally, pleasant for the last few days and so is our mind. [77]

[His diary on December 16] We took about 5,000 prisoners of war, some of those we captured a couple of days ago, to the bank of the Yangtze and mowed them down by machine guns. Then we stabbed them with bayonets to our satisfaction. I probably bayoneted 30-odd hateful Chinese soldiers. Climbing up the heap of dead bodies and bayoneting them gave me a courage, which made me feel I could even vanquish ogres. I stabbed them with all my might while hearing them groan. There were some old ones and kids. I killed them all. I even borrowed a sword and severed a head. It was the most unusual experience I’ve ever had. [78]

[Interview on the videotape] The next day there was another call [for an execution] but I wasn’t assigned for it. I did it only once. I believe we killed all the prisoners of war our unit captured. I heard that we had some 20,000 in total… Before I crossed the river [to go to another front in China], I was shocked to see a long stretch of hundreds of charred bodies on the banks. Then I was sure we killed tens of thousands…. It [the Nanjing Massacre] is true, indeed. It is not a lie…. To be honest, I wanted the war to end in Nanking. I really wanted to come back [to Japan]. [79]

Private Kawata Senji (Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] I heard they [the captives] were conscripted soldiers. I saw various prisoners, from younger ones to really old ones…. There were 20,000 of them. We took them out to the bank of the Yangtze River and machine-gunned them. It took us two nights to finish it off. We threw the bodies into the river later on, but the stream was so slow that many of them didn’t float right away.

[Interview on the videotape] At the time I didn’t think it was wrong. I was ordered to do so. After the war this story [of the mass executions by the Yamada Detachment] came up occasionally. Then I started asking myself, “Did I do something wrong?” [80]

Second Lieutenant Endo Takaaki (Pseudonym):

[His diary on Dec. 16] The prisoners of war amounted to 17,025. In the evening received military order, took out one third of them to the banks and the 1st Battalion shot them. [81]

[His diary on Dec. 17] At night sent out five soldiers for the execution of the 10,000-odd remaining prisoners. [82]

Second Lieutenant Takayanagi Shinichi (Pseudonym):

A cenotaph to those massacred near Mufu Mountain. These kinds of memorials can be found at major execution sites in today's Nanking.

A cenotaph to those massacred near Mufu Mountain. These kinds of memorials can be found at major execution sites in today’s Nanking.

[Interview on the videotape] We tied them [the captives] up and began dragging them [to the execution site] in the morning…. It took all day to get them there. Then at night we machine-gunned them all…. There was corpse after corpse. Had it been in the daylight, I don’t think I could have faced the scene straight. I went back there to dispose of the bodies the next day. They were all charred and smelled awful. Even now I remember the smell.

[Interview on the videotape] The order to ‘do it’ came through all the way from the top…. Those high-rankings don’t know what it was like. They just order and never come to the scene…. I don’t know how they could talk about it. They haven’t even seen it. We, noncommissioned officers and men, were the ones who actually carried it out…. I wonder who on earth are those people to claim that such a miserable incident was “fabrication”…. Well, those “professional Army officers” were always behind the scene. [83]

Sergeant Kawashima Noriyasu (Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] I had experienced so much combat before Nanking. Compared with those, the Battle of Nanking was nothing. The Chinese soldiers were gone out of sight pretty quickly…. They [prisoners of war] were not all soldiers. I don’t remember clearly but I might have seen a few women, even…. Of course it was an order from above [to execute all the captives]. It wasn’t like five or ten captives…. I was not in a position to know the whole picture, but it was an official order. [84]

Private Hayashi Junzo (Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] I made the pedestals to mount the machine guns. It was about one meter [3 feet 4 inches] high…. I did it [killed the prisoners] on the second day at the foot of Mufu Mountain…. I fired some 200 bullets in about ten minutes and that was it. I was allowed to go back and was lucky enough not to be assigned to dispose of the dead bodies. [85]

Private Taniguchi Toshimitsu (Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] Many groups of 100 or 200 Chinese soldiers came from here and there to surrender while hanging out a white cloth or something of that kind. I didn’t count them by myself, but I heard we had about 18,000 to 20,000…. I am sure that other units, like the 6th Division, have done the same…. I don’t think it could be 300,000. I guess it was probably about 80,000 to 100,000.

[Interview on the videotape] Well, in retrospect we were crazy. When I was taking them [to the execution site], I knew I was going to kill them. But I didn’t feel any guilt. Of course I can’t imagine doing it now. [86]

Noncommissioned officer Yamazaki Kohei (Exact title not to be revealed / Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] There were many prisoners of war who survived the machine-gunning. So we bayoneted those who were moving…. Some screamed like mad men when I stabbed them. It was so loud. Their voices haunted me for a week since then…. I heard that there were a few female prisoners of war. But I don’t think there was any elderly or children. They were all soldiers…. We just did what our superiors told us to do…. We burnt the bodies and they stank so badly…. I didn’t think much about it [the cruelty] at the time. I just thought war was like that. [87]

Interview: Ono Kenji [88]

"If you read his [Mr. Kurosu's] diary, you know it is something that you can't easily talk about," says Ono. Interview by author on March 11, 2000.

“If you read his [Mr. Kurosu’s] diary, you know it is something that you can’t easily talk about,” says Ono.

“I think those former soldiers used to have racial hatred toward Chinese. Many war veterans I interviewed still unconsciously use the word, Chankoro [derogatory term in Japanese literally meaning, “Chinese brat”], or something of that kind. But at the same time, many of those who committed the massacre have been tormented by their consciences for more than 50 years….”

“I became really close to Mr. Kurosu (pseudonym) through my research. I visited his house quite often and talked a lot. He seemed deeply repentant…. I was really surprised and couldn’t say a word when he gave me his wartime diary, which, he’d been telling me, he ditched before he landed in Japan. It was one and a half years after we met and made friends! Then I realized how hard it was for him to come to terms with the past. If you read his diary, you know it is something that you can’t easily talk about….”

“These [former soldiers’] diaries are candidly describing how normal, average persons had developed their animosity through combat and how they became mentally anesthetized through slaughtering captives and looting houses on the way to Nanjing. Once those cruel acts became their daily lives, they no longer had inhibitions….”

“After all, they were following orders from the Army. Most of those who massacred Chinese were noncommissioned officers and common soldiers. For them the orders were absolute…. Of course I feel compassion for the victims. But now I know the perpetrators were also psychologically scarred….”

“A veteran told me that he couldn’t forget the face of one prisoner he killed in Shanghai. He executed thousands of POWs on the banks of the Yangtze River later on, but those victims were already faceless for him. But the one he killed in Shanghai for the first time, he still dreams of the face once in a while. I think it really tells something about the psychological state of the soldiers in the Yamada Detachment in Nanjing.”

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  1. Ono, “Gyakusatsu ka Kaihou ka: Yamada Shitai Horyo Yaku Niman no Yukue” [Massacre or Discharge? Fate of the About 20,000 Prisoners of War Captured by the Yamada Detachment],” 140-156.
  2. Tadanobu Kurosu (pseudonym), interview by Kenji Ono, 4 June 1994.
  3. Ono, Nanking Daigyakusatsu o Kirokushita Kogun Heishitach [Imperial Army Soldiers Who Recorded the Nanjing Massacre], 346.
  4. Ibid., 350-351.
  5. Kurosu (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 4 June 1994.
  6. Senji Kawata (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 12 June 1994.
  7. Ono, Nanking Daigyakusatsu o Kirokushita Kogun Heishitach [Imperial Army Soldiers Who Recorded the Nanjing Massacre], 219.
  8. Ibid., 220.
  9. Shinichi Takayanagi (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 11 June 1994.
  10. Noriyasu Kawashima (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 21 August 1994.
  11. Junzo Hayashi (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 26 June 1994.
  12. Toshimitsu Taniguchi (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 5 June 1994.
  13. Kohei Yamazaki (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 11 June 1994.
  14. Kenji Ono, interview by author, Iwaki (Fukushima Prefecture), Japan, 11 March 2000.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.