Thousands of them have already perished. Thousands.
The Japanese Imperial Army have arrived and they were leaving their mark. The date of December 13th, 1937, will forever be ingrained in my memory.
I was sitting beside the bed of a severely injured youth, recording his testimony word for word via pencil and notebook. He only just managed to reach the Safety Zone, his wounds from a soldier’s sword practices prominent. I take out a camera and ask him for permission for a photo. He nods and shuffles carefully against the pillows, body unquestionably in distress. I take the photo quickly yet efficiently. The poor boy lost his mother to a gang rape where her body was later mutilated and displayed, his father to a gunshot at the back of the head and a brother who was among many selected for the killing contests. The contests were scattered everywhere in the city, young local men being rounded up by the hundreds and soldiers decapitating them with swords. Whoever kills the most wins.
I finish up with him and gather all of my belongings, saying my usual thank you's and my sincere condolences. Words that I had to repeat again and again. There were many survivors among us with similar stories.
I walk past the filled beds, volunteers and the stenches. There wasn’t much to offer in medical assistance; water was tight, medical supplies tighter, hardly any painkillers remain. I glance over at our doctor, who looked haggard and fatigued, hunched over as he stitches up the leg of a patient. He has been working nonstop for days. I wish I could convince him to stop and rest for a moment, it won’t do anyone good if he collapses. But he would always say no, he couldn’t refuse the constant stream of new arrivals. I shake my head in exasperation, carefully walking through the crowded hallways where people settled. I leave the hospital and cross a narrow street to enter the adjacent building. Upon entering through the main entrance, I once more had to maneuver my way around people. I finally see my tiny bedroom, slip inside, and place my notebook and my camera on my desk carefully. I wish I could bring my camera with me more often, but it is an easy target for stealing by the perpetrators. I pause briefly for a moment, losing myself in thought as I stand over my desk.
I eventually snap out of it and head back outside to visit one of the open courtyards of the Safety Zone. Many of the survivors were huddled together en masse; others were walking around as they set up little makeshift tents and beds. They hardly had anything with them, just the clothes on their backs and the few items they were able to snatch before evacuating their homes. Something startles me, and I look upwards to see ominous dark planes sprinting above against the contrast of the growing red sky. There was always sounds - sounds of tanks and planes, sounds of guns and marching, sounds of the massacres happening only a few meters or miles away. It was happening all around us, at every direction and corner. I frown at the planes, secretly cursing at them.
Most of the foreigners and rich citizens left during the first air raids, therefore only a handful remained behind. A doctor, businessmen, administrators, a head of the YMCA, professors, Chinese volunteers, journalists, Christian missionaries and a nurse. Hardly the kind of group to fight against a horde of military might. Ironically, the chairman of our International Committee was a German Nazi. I remember feeling slight contempt for him when we first met, for obvious reasons. But the man proved himself to have an exceptionally hard working and selfless character, his attempts to save lives and maintain the well-being of the inhabitants reaching no bounds. The fact that he was a Nazi, thus an apparent ally to the Japanese, somewhat helped us.
Somewhat. The invaders had no such notion of respect for the normal rules of war, and eventually only adhered to the zone as long as no Chinese combatants were inside with us. (Not that we had many of them left, most had already fallen. Their Emperor Hirohito advised his staff to remove the term ‘Prisoners of War’ so that Chinese soldiers may be executed freely). Still, while they were unfortunately very aggressive and violent towards many of us, once they see the Swastika they would often fall back. It’s bad business to kill a German, I remember one remarking. It was tempting to borrow an arm band and wear it, despite my own convictions. It is our only real weapon overall. Oh, the damn irony of it all.
Our humble little zone was only about 3 miles in size, it’s boundaries marked by simple roads, walls and some barriers. A hospital, a college, storage areas, various homes, gardens and parks is what contained inside. What was once a very pretty little setting of Nanking has now transformed into a weary sanctuary for the desperate. Diligence was key in making sure the lines were patrolled, as the Japanese often attempt to break in, mainly to try and kidnap girls.
“They lied to us!” a voice shrieks. “They lied!! They LIED! They promised kindness! Promised!”
“I saw their bullshit a mile away,” comments another grudgingly.
Sudden shouts and cries are normal. Everyone reacts differently; Those who remain completely silent, others who sob and yell, many who brush themselves off in determination and offer assistance to the others, the rest who regularly explore in hopes of perhaps finding a surviving relative.
I eventually try to find our Chairman, Rabe, and spent a good portion of the hour in my attempt. I eventually discover the distinguished yet exhausted looking man sitting inside a messy office full of books and papers, fingers pressed firmly against a pen as he writes another letter. We have been sending so many letters and reports lately to different governments and countries, but with no response as of yet. The only real response was from Hitler, who penalized Rabe by announcing that he will be stripped of his assets and to never speak of Nanking ever again.
When I walk up to him, I discover his temperament was furious in nature. He suddenly tosses the pen and some papers in the air.
“It’s useless. Useless.” He leans back against his wooden seat, looking up at me. He explains how he has written dozens of letters to the commanders and the embassy.
“I repeatedly contacted them. I tried to be civil. I even tried to be kind. I reported about the thousand girls who were raped in one night. I reported about all the horrific rapes and mutilations happening every hour. How husbands, fathers and brothers were killed if they tried to intervene. How the Japanese constantly raid and steal our food, when we are already struggling to feed two hundred thousand people! I reported about the looting and the destruction of homes and businesses and the mass executions. I reminded them constantly that it was the duty and responsibility of the Japanese authorities to handle the monstrous cruelty and brutality of their own men and to assist in protecting the Safety Zone. You know what the response was of Mr. Fukui, the Secretary?”
I shake my head.
“He calls me. He threatens me. He says ‘If the Shanghai Newspapers report bad things, the army will go against you.’ I responded to him ‘It looks as if you expect me to say something like this to the reporters: The situation in Nanking is improving everyday. Please don't print any more atrocity stories about the vile behavior of Japanese soldiers, because then you'll only be pouring oil on fire of disagreement that already exists between the Japanese and Europeans." He simply replied cheerily with a ‘Yes! That would be delightful’.”
He bemoans, eyes now gazing through a dirty window. Gunshots are heard in the distance. The sounds buzz inside my ears.
“They gave me their word,” he mumbles slightly, chin resting on a curled hand.
“We will always remember Sir, every single soul here,” I say calmly and carefully. “And we will never shut up no matter how much they will deny it or put up their propaganda.”
Rabe nods slowly, a thoughtful expression falling upon his face. “You can bury things under the dirt but you can always find another shovel."
I glance to his right side, noticing little paper pockets filled with coins. Ah, those were little gifts for the babies born in the Safety Zone. $10 for a boy and $9.50 for a girl. I found the discrepancy aggravating, as it was explained how girls here were not worth as much as boys. Nevertheless, the man tried his best to hold up normalcy among the children, even hosting birthday parties.
We discuss further for a while about various matters, until we part ways to fulfill other duties. I walk down the corridor and suddenly feel a gentle vibration travelling throughout the building. It appears the bomb has gone off somewhere in the distance.
When the shaking eventually subsides I go back outside, looking up at the growing evening sky. Fires were blazing in the distance, reaching upwards with masterful greed.
I hear the voice of someone screaming, a gut wrenching sound of pure anguish. I run over to the direction of its source. It didn’t sound too far away. I grab hold the side of a wall and climb up to peer over it. I see a few men in uniform gathered together, perhaps a good few meters away from where I was perching, and one of them was carrying a toddler upside down. There was also a body of a woman nearby their feet, her stomach ripped open. Laying a few feet beside her was a small red mass attached to an umbilical cord.
“You fucking bastards! Stop that!” My Japanese was not as good as my Chinese, so I attempted to speak in English first.
They barely paid heed to a scowling pasty-looking Westerner poking his head over a shabby wooden wall. The child was squirming and wailing, and it didn’t take long for the man to throw it down to the ground, pierce it with a bayonet, and lift it up in mid-air, swinging it back and forth casually like a flag. Some of his fellows let out a little gleeful laugh. One happens to have their own home camera, and proceeds to take a picture of the newly dead child. Two separate cameras today, documenting for two very different reasons.
I leap back in horror. It doesn’t matter how many times you see it; you can never let go of it. Hell must be a much kinder place than this in comparison.
Pieces of shit. Pieces of damn shit!
My entire body is shuddering. I clamber ungracefully over the wall, having to put some effort into it as there wasn’t a lot of support offered for a proper climb. I jump onto the ground and sprint over. Just as I was about to say something to them, I feel a cold sharp object press against the back of my head. I knew what this was, and I slowly raise my hands. So, another one has managed to sneak up behind me fairly quickly.
I hear the sound of a rough, sharp voice yelling behind me. I could barely understand, though it is clear that they were threats. There was this odd feeling surrounding me while my eyes darted around; it was like they both mocked me and feared me at once. I make an attempt to turn around to face the man behind me, but I am rewarded with a hard butt hit to the head. I stumble towards the ground, hands landing harshly against the rocks and dirt.
I manage to catch the words “Amerikano” and “Nederlands” in the middle of their dialogue with one another. I decided to speak up, remembering vaguely the Japanese word that would describe my nationality. A great likeliness that I would butcher it, but nevertheless.
“No….no…Ig-iri-su-hito.” I slowly stand up, a little wobbly but nevertheless still relatively sound. I repeat it, pointing to myself while my other hand resumed its upright position. The end of the rifle presses against my head once more. “You are not supposed to be near here. You better leave,” I say firmly with continued determination, keeping my eyes forward in front of me as a way to temporarily ignore the existence of the little bodies nearby. My attention was focused on these…these…oh how I want to throw so many insults at them. They might find their victims inferior and non-human, but how I see them they were far from human themselves.
I can hear wailing and screams off into the distance. The whole area outside the zone surrounding me was dusty and debilitated, signs of blood old and new glazed against numerous surfaces. My body tenses up in anguish, though I try to remain calm on the surface. I hear the soldiers speak amongst themselves, partly in argument and partly calming in nature. If I were to guess it seems half of the group wants to hurt or kill me and the other half would rather ignore me and get on with other activities. I lower my head so my vision meets with the ground. I hear some footsteps travel around me. I lower my voice to achieve a rough tone before I speak again.
“I said, you better damn well leave!”
Without warning I feel something hit my back, followed by the sound of brisk laughter. I look up again and notice the soldiers walking away and leaving me, seemingly letting the whole thing go. Well, at least this time around it was a relatively mild experience in regards to the treatment of my anatomy. I turn around instantly to see what was thrown at me.
It was a decapitated head of a little child.
Written by BlackPersephone