Sunday, December 16, 2007

Those Who Stood at Nanking

(reflection to interview heard on Bob Edwards's radio program today.)

Like the producer of the documentary NANKING, I must admit that it's news to me that twenty-two westerners working in China, men and women, chose not to escape the Japanese onslaught in 1937. Their home governments sent ships to rescue them, and the Chinese officials of Nanking escaped, but the Westerners stood together to create a "safety zone."

I visited the website and reprint these bits of information:

Ted Leonsis, Vice-Chairman of AOL, read Iris Chang’s book THE RAPE OF NANKING . Leonsis was shocked that he knew nothing about an event that had been such a terrible injustice and he felt that telling its story would have real meaning for today’s world. ...[He was] moved by the courage of the handful of Westerners who stayed behind in Nanking at the beginning of World War II to create a Safety Zone, protecting over two hundred thousand Chinese from rampaging Japanese troops. Their story shows that the actions of ordinary individuals in extraordinary circumstances can make a difference.

The events now known as ‘the rape of Nanking’ lasted approximately six weeks. The city was looted and burned, and marauding Japanese soldiers unleashed a staggering wave of violence on Nanking’s population. According to the summary judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East – also known as the Tokyo Trials, “estimates indicate that the total number of civilians and prisoners of war murdered in Nanking and its vicinity during the first six weeks of the Japanese occupation was over 200,000. Approximately 20,000 cases of rape occurred in the city during the first month of the occupation.”

Prior to the fall of the city, many Chinese fled the approaching troops and all foreign citizens were ordered to evacuate. A group of 22 European and American expatriates, however, refused to leave. Despite devastating air strikes and the threat of an oncoming army, these Westerners – including John Rabe, a Nazi businessman; Bob Wilson, an American surgeon; and Minni Vautrin, the American headmistress of a missionary college – remained behind in order to set up a Safety Zone to protect civilians. Some two hundred thousand refugees crowded into the Zone, which spanned two square miles. During the brutal occupation, Safety Zone committee members vehemently protested the army’s actions to the Japanese authorities, but the carnage continued. Every day John Rabe, Minnie Vautrin, and the others fought to keep the Safety Zone’s boundaries intact and the refugees safe. (from Nanking the Film, official web site
According to Leonsis in the interview, the headmistress of a girls' college slapped a Japanese officer and stood alone against the marauding soldiers each night to protect several thousand girls on her campus. A German businessman, member of the Nazi party, personally intervened to prevent rape. An American doctor wrote to his wife how the situation could not get worse -- there were so few people left for the Japanese to kill -- and that he could not leave China for comforts of home, because he would always carry with him the regret that he didn't do what he could to help the helpless, and that would make him less of a husband, less of a father.

No comments: