Viewing Japan and China, circa 1937-38, via Nazi Archives

photo by Adam Cathcart

Among other things, I’ve spent a couple of days back in the Bundesarchiv here in Berlin, and found a new trove of materials in the R55 section, which is the Reichsministrium fuer Volksaufklaerung und Propaganda.  These are, in other words, documents from the Propaganda Ministry run by Dr. Goebbels.  To my knowledge, these files have never been used as the basis of a study of German relations with Japan, much less Japanese colonization of northeast China after 1931 or the murderous war that was going on in China in 1937-1938.

What good is a historian without fresh documents?

Among the files I’ve found thus far include:

1.) Reports from the front, describing the Japanese invasion of China in 1937-38. These reports are particularly rich when it comes to the embattled city of Wuhan, but they also deal with Nanking in the aftermath of the infamous Japanese invasion of that city in December 1937.  Among other things, there are critiques of the lack of discipline among Japanese soldiers, indicating that John Rabe’s protestations to Hitler (protests which along with saving 30,000 lives, earned him the moniker “The Good Nazi of Nanking”) were less of a lonely cry for help than part of a pattern of information flowing into Berlin about what was going on in the lower Yangtze River valley.

Japanese soldiers, for instance, assaulted a German doctor in Shanghai in February 1938, prompting reports back home and protests to the Japanese Consul-General in that city.

This document makes me wonder again why has no one bothered before to compile German news reports from such journals as Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung as a new source for historians to piece together Nanking and its aftermath?

Sample Citation for 1.: “Deutscher Protest in Schanghai (German Protest in Shanghai),” 27 February 1938, in “Meldung aus Japan, Hongkong, und China (Reports from Japan, Hong Kong, and China, 1938-39”), Reichsministirium fuer Volksaufklaerung und Propaganda (Reich Ministry for Propaganda), R55/21577 (Fiche No. 7), Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archives), Lichterfelde, Berlin.

– 2.) Files About Japanese Diplomats. On one file marked with an urgent “Secret” (“GEHEIM!”) in pencil, the Japanese Ambassador to Berlin (Oshima) is described:

Oshima is a soldier of the best Japanese samurai-type, who is in fact more soldier than diplomat.  Intellectually, he does not surpass the average; he is a man of will…He has, more or less, made enemies with everyone in his Mission.  He has his own politically loyal circle, including especially the Adjutant working underneath him, the Lieutenant Nishi, and also the First Embassy Secretary Uchida, both of whom have finely-tuned minds who unquestioningly give the Ambassador everything they have…The Business Section head Matsushima and the Embassy’s Trade Officer (the latter named Nagai, who is a half-Japanese with a German mother), go totally their own way.  As the head of the Cultural Section, everyone agrees that Sakuna is totally a diplomatic flop and will soon go home.

Oshima didn’t understand that he could win great sympathy from the Japanese colony in Berlin….An influential Japanese told me in a bitter tone, that Oshima practices politics like a man at the horse races who has placed all his bets on the horse named “Germany.”  His friends in Germany are sentimental, but not political.  Thus Oshima has not the slightest idea about the spiritual and cultural Germany.  German music, theater, arts, literature and the like make him obviously bored, even though he shows a little interest to those who have hope that he does.  Apart from that, he tells the local Japanese that he, in their eyes, is totally blind to Germany’s weak points.

Oshima honors the personality of der Fuhrer (e.g., Hitler) from the bottom of his heart and is, “like a good National Socialist,” convinced that der  Fuhrer “will make everything beautiful (again).”  In other political matters, he has nothing to say.  His honoring of der Fuhrer goes so far that Oshima has stated in advices to his regime that nothing passes in der Fuhrer’s politics, even via his (e.g. Hitler’s) foreign minister, that escapes his necessary energy.

In the Japanese circles, the unseemingly (strong) role played by the wife of Toyoko Oshima is very often discussed.  She in fact lives in the background, but she has, however, had her finger in all of the political activities.  She is only interested in her husband’s career, as, in the event that everything goes well, he would surely receive a high post in the Japanese government (upon his return).  The young staff at the Embassy live especially under the real Terror of Mrs. Oshima, who mixes herself into all of the Embassy’s duties.  Mrs. Oshima’s most intimate friends are Mrs. Viktor de Kowa, the Japanese singer Michiko Tanaka, the divorced wife of Julians Meinl of Vienna (“Coffee Meinl”).  This (information) is won from the impressions gathered from my discussions with the Japanese journalists, who look upon that truly dangerous line between political and military news.

Citation for 2.: “Reiter” zu Staatsskretaer (“Reiter” to State Secretary), Berlin, 13 September 1944, in “Beurteilung des japanischen Botschafters in Berlin, 1944 (Assessment of the Japanese Ambassador in Berlin, 1944)”, Reichsministirium fuer Volksaufklaerung und Propaganda (Reich Ministry for Propaganda), R55/20786, Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archives), Lichterfelde, Berlin.

There is much, much more where this came from, including:

– the strange case of Heinz Baruch, a Jewish classical music imprassario in Tokyo who the Germans essentially forced into deportation to the United States (via wartime Shanghai, pre-war Philippines, and Australia, charging him to renew his Jewish “shield” at every step) so that they could plan to bring the Frankfurt Opera to Tokyo (in a vastly overambitious and expensive plan that failed anyway);

– the Germans who accompanied a Japanese opera company on a tour of Manchukuo;

– the book entitled “Der Gelbe Gefahr (The Yellow Peril)” published in Berlin in 1942;

– dispatches about Japan from a journalist directly in the employ of the Propaganda Ministry

– “Writings from the People Suggesting Improvements to War Propaganda, Especially the Piece ‘A Word on Enemy Air-Terror’ by Dr. Joseph Goebbels from 27 May 1944”;

– A visit to Japan of the “German Boy-Scouts” in 1934;

– Fees for Chinese translators for Germans in Nanking.

All translations from the German by Adam Cathcart.

from the German Bundesarchiv, R55/20562, f. 6-7, photo by Adam Cathcart

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