Victims 300,000

The next two posts are hard to write and will be difficult to read. Please be aware that there are pictures in this post that are quite disturbing.

On December 13th, 1937, the Japanese army captured Nanking, then the capital of China. Those with money and means had already fled, as well as the government and Chiang Kai-shek who had ordered that all ports and boats, as well as surrounding villages be burned to prevent further evacuation. His elite troops were sent away, so they would be saved to fight the Communists, rather than being sacrificed to the Japanese.

The people of Nanjing were convinced that the Japanese would treat them well. Once the gates fell, many of the soldiers actually gathered themselves together and waited for the Japanese to find them.

The half a million people left in the city were sitting ducks. Japan had finally conquered Shanghai in battles that lasted for three months. The Japanese had been convinced that their superior army would take Shanghai quickly. In fact, it had been their plan to take all of China in three months. The long battle for Shanghai had left them feeling angry and humiliated as they made their way to Nanking. And although the author of the orders has been debated for years, it is clear that the soldiers’ orders were: “Kill everyone.” And although it may not have been explicitly said, it was  also clear to the soldiers that they had the ok to rape and loot.

What followed after the December 13 capture of Nanking was 6 weeks of depravity and murder. Many of the Chinese soldiers had taken off their uniforms and run away, after the Japanese victory. In an effort to capture all the Chinese soldiers, the Japanese rounded up anyone and everyone, not only in the city itself, but also in the surrounding villages. The deaths were brutal and horrifying. People were tied together, brought to ditches or the river, and shot or beheaded with giant swords. They were also buried alive, herded into buildings and set alight, nailed to boards and other horrific tortures.  The river and streets ran red. Two of the commanders had a “killing contest” to see who could kill 100 people first (by beheading). There was a tie and they increased the goal to 150. It is estimated that 300,000 people were killed over those 6 weeks.

And then the raping began. No woman was spared; girls as young as 8 as well as elderly grandmothers were equal targets. Young girls were cut to make them easier to rape. After being used and gang raped multiple times, the women were usually killed, often in horrific sexual ways. Some women were taken to Japanese camps that were specifically used as brothels for the soldiers. The women who survived often committed suicide. If they were pregnant, the babies were usually killed at birth. The babies and women who survived were ostracized because they had been with, or were the product of a Japanese soldier. It is estimated that 20,000 women were raped.

There was however, somewhat of an oasis in the middle of the horrors. Just as the Jews had their Schindler, the Chinese had their John Bare, a German Nazi who was in Nanking working for Siemens. At the time, Germany and Japan were allies. The Japanese soldiers were terrified of the Nazis, which worked to John Bare’s advantage. The sight of a swastika on a flag or armband was enough to stop the bombing and brutality.

There were 22 foreigners still in Nanking. Twenty-two people who chose not to leave, so that they could help the Chinese people. Minnie Vautrin was the headmaster of a girl’s school. She suggested that an International Safety Zone be formed to accept refugees. The zone would be off limits to the Japanese soldiers. John Bare became the leader.

The 22 weren’t able to protect everyone in the safety zone.  For awhile, the expats were able to turn the Japanese back when they came to look for Chinese soldiers. Gradually the Japanese refused to follow the rules and groups of people were taken out and shot. Eventually in March the safety zone was disbanded.

There is now a wonderful museum in Nanking that memorializes the victims and tells the story of the massacre. I went there last week on the high speed train. Take a walk along with me through the museum and try to put yourself in the shoes of the people you see:

captured soldiers

captured soldiers



The guns used to murder the Chinese

The guns used to murder the Chinese




One of the female rape victims

One of the female rape victims, beginning to disrobe.


Some of the 22 international people who staffed the safety zone.

Some of the 22 international people who staffed the safety zone.

Minnie Vautrin, the headmistress who suggested the safety zone.

Minnie Vautrin, the headmistress who suggested the safety zone.

After seeing the horrors of the massacre, Minnie never recovered. She committed suicide 1 year and a day after the fall of Nanking.

Minnie's headstone

Minnie’s headstone

John Rabe, the Nazi employee of Seagrams who decided to stay and help the people he had been working with for years.

John Rabe, the Nazi employee of Seagrams who decided to stay and help the people he had been working with for years.

John Rabe wrote to Hitler about the situation, asking for his help. Hitler never replied. Even after he returned to Germany in March, he continued to lobby for the Chinese people. He was considered an embarrassment and was sent to Afganistan. Upon his return after the war, he was let go by Siemens. He and his wife were destitute. Upon hearing this, survivors of the massacre collected money and food and took it to Germany to rescue the people who had rescued them.

It is estimated that 200,000 people were saved, thanks to the safety zone.


DSC08742DSC08743DSC08744                                                  Refugees in the safety zone

DSC08745                                                             From John Rabe’s diary


DSC08748The Japanese wouldn’t allow the burial of the dead, but some brave citizens did it anyway.

The sabers used to behead people.

The sabers used to behead people.

The Chinese people are still very angry about the massacre, and with good reason. They’ve never gotten a formal written apology from Japan (although there was finally a verbal one in the last 10 years.) If a soldier was a part of the royal family, they were immune from punishment for war crimes. Many of them went on to live lives of ease. Even today there are citizens of Japan, as well as some in the conservative part of the government who claim that the massacre didn’t happen, or that it was greatly exaggerated because it was impossible to kill so many people in such a short time. They claim that there is no evidence. Interestingly, the Japanese themselves kept careful documentation during that time and they were unashamed of committing their crimes in front of foreign journalists, and the 22 expats who didn’t evacuate.


Evidence of a saber cut on a skull

Evidence of a saber cut on a skull

I hope they aren't proud

Many mass graves have been found around Nanking, including during the building of the museum on its current site.

Buttons, collected from the graves.

Buttons, collected from the graves.

How does one memorialize such an atrocity? The Nanjing Massacre Museum has done a stunning job of that. In the next post, you’ll get to see what I mean.


About DECRYPTKNIT: knitter on the loose in Shanghai

Hi, I'm Marisa Newhouse, a former pharmacist (for a brief time during the Reagan administration) who's real calling was probably anything that has to do with cooking, plants, literature and especially knitting; hence my last and favorite job, working at Woolyminded, a wonderful yarn store. But now, I have moved half a world away to Shanghai where my husband will be working. Lots of people are interested in what we will be doing here and I have always kept journals of our travels, so I thought I'd do it the modern way and keep a blog.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Victims 300,000

  1. J L says:

    I read a wonderful book that was a fictionalized account of this time period. It is called Shanghai Girls. Ultimately the story moves to the US, but the earlier part of the book takes place during the invasion. If you haven’t read it, you might enjoy it. Joyce


  2. Kaye and Nick says:

    We forget so much. Thank you.

  3. FarAway Peach Garden (世外桃源) says:

    I was surprised to see your posting this morning… Outside of China, few people know about this part of human history, one of the darkest, let alone blog about it. My mother was not even born when the atrocity happened in Nanjing, yet I feel the unbearable pain till today… I can’t stop my tears looking at the photos here … Part of the reason the Chinese today are still so angry is that many of the war criminals who committed the atrocity are worshiped in Yasukuni Shrine (靖国神社 or 靖國神社) in Tokyo by all walks of lives in Japan. Just imagine how the rest of Europe will feel if the Germens today put Hitler in a Shrine in Germany…

    Thank you for the post!

  4. Xin says:

    I’m so touched by your writing. It is true so few really know about this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s