Survivors and former Japanese soldier recall 7 weeks of slaughter

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2007, 12:00am

Tears roll down the face of Zhang Huixia, 80, as her son points out the name of her father carved on a stone wall along with thousands of other victims of the Nanking Massacre.

Although she was only a young girl in 1937, she recalls seeing members of her family taken from their home in the southern part of the city, never to return.

'It's difficult to talk about. There should be two more names here,' she said, staring up at the 3.5 metre-high wall of granite.

More than 10,000 names are inscribed, a fraction of what China says are the total number of victims, 300,000.

Former Japanese soldier Sho Mitani met survivors of the massacre face to face for the first time yesterday.

Part of a naval detachment that operated around the Zhongshan Wharf on the Yangtze River, he recalled seeing corpses piled two metres high.

China has estimated more than 10,000 people were killed by Japanese forces at Zhongshan Wharf, filling the river with bodies. The former soldier, 88, declined to discuss his feelings, but said he had a mission to talk about what he saw and did. 'Japan has not recognised history,' he said.

Mr Mitani recalled: 'We used rifles for a continuous burst of fire. There was no [emotional] reaction.'

Zhou Shaohua and Zhou Xiuhua, both in their 80s, are also survivors.

They hid as the Japanese soldiers unleashed a spree of killing and destruction, which destroyed at least a third of the city, over seven weeks from mid-December 1937 into January 1938. 'We all hid,' said Zhou Xiuhua, who was 12 at the time. 'We were afraid of the Japanese devils,' added Zhou Shaohua, using the derogatory term for Japanese as he recalled his feelings at the age of 17.

Eventually, they found refuge in the 'International Safety Zone' set up for refugees.

Several foreign nationals and the Red Cross set up the zone in November 1937, before the city fell. One of those foreigners, German national John Rabe, of Siemens, is often compared to Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who saved Jews from the Holocaust. The nearly 4 sq km zone, which also contained several diplomatic missions, gave shelter to some 250,000 refugees.

One of the reasons behind the two-year project to build a new memorial hall and expand the site was to present more information about the massacre, in the face of continued denials by Japanese groups and debate over the number of victims.

The hall holds thousands of boxes of files containing information on victims and from survivors and foreign witnesses.