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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

Impressions of the Iris Chang Papers

It’s been a whirlwind, head-bending kind of two-day sprint through a minor swath of the Hoover Institute Archives at Stanford University.

Iris Chang wasn’t my only target — thanks to some very diligent young colleagues I was also lucky to find my way into a thicket of Korean War propaganda (some of which I hope to leak out on this blog), more work by Sheldon Harris, and a few hundred pages of the master diplomat-analyst O. Edmund Clubb in the tendentious 1950s.  But more on that later.

All things considered, Iris Chang’s incredible energy, her coiled personality, and her unchallenged productivity are revealed in these papers, where ultimate inwardness (better phrased in the German innigkeit) coexists with statements to her self like “Celebrity Affords Certain Advantages.”  And not that she cares anymore (she being deceased, and her papers thus available for my perusal), but the experience leaves me quite conflicted.

Certain very important hallmarks of historical research shine through in Iris Chang’s materials regarding the preparation for her groundbreaking book, The Rape of Nanking (1997).

Drawing from the sheer mass of the photocopied materials from such other archives as the Yale Divinity Library’s huge missionary archive, Chang took pains to cite cite cite her assertions, something that can’t be said for Jung Chang’s treatment of Mao. At least two boxes of printouts show her extracting, isolating her every sentence onto separate sheets of paper and explaining to herself what source it the sentence is based upon.  This is the a kind of thorough research and writing method with which most scholars can’t necessarily don’t always bother themselves, even if some of her sources are a bit suspect.

She is an active reader, using pencil and highlighter to good effect, amassing much data.  Going through a fraction of these papers has given me more respect for Chang — of course she is going to be attacked for leaving details from important sources out!  There are a lot of sources, and each has a life of its own.  What is really needed is a huge and comprehensive volume of primary sources as a companion piece to the book.

She has transcripts of video interviews conducted with then-New York Times reporter Tillman Durdin and his charming China Hand missionary wife, letters from missionaries like Fitch and Bates and Magee, of course, and makes notes on these things in abundant pencil, mixing English with Chinese.

Iris Chang reads Chinese!  This is a good thing.

On the other hand, there is a huge amount of material in these papers that reveals that Chang in the aftermath of the book’s completion was wrapped up wholly in its marketing, and was in some ways beset by various proposals (both business and personal) in the several years after its publication.

In one notebook excerpt from April 2000, she records her impressions of a meeting with a certain Hollywood agent affiliated with Mel Gibson.  After learning that “a profascist in Japan called me a Chinese slut,” Chang gets a pitch from the agent.  It appears that he wanted her to sell him the rights to her story, or work with him to turn the story of her book into cinema.  “Your passion is the story,” he appears to tell her, “you didn’t do it for the money,” before offering either $50,000 or 250,000 to make it happen.   At the end of the conversation memorandum, written in Chang’s rapid black ball-point sprawl is the sentence “contact Jerry Bruckenheimer.”

These are things that most history professors, and full-time researchers of history, don’t deal with.  They move on to the next book, teach the next class, apply for the next grant.

They forget to call Jerry Bruckenheimer because they are too wrapped up in the secondary literature.

Chang took more of  a reporter’s approach to The Rape of Nanking.  She uses more David Bergamini than anyone else, and a few boxes of photocopies from relevant secondary works (like an advance copy of Herbert Bix’s Hirohito [chapters 13-17] and the promising book by Iritani The Wartime Psychology of the Japanese People) lie basically unannotated.  I didn’t find her copy of Bergamini.

One of my students mentioned that Iris Chang should have had a colloquy with Jung Chang.  I thought that might have been interesting indeed.

In a subsequent post I hope to reflect further on her own self-analysis in these writings.  Like a mostly-empty notebook entitled “Meetings With Japanese Peace Activists,” even in the blank spaces in these papers is gathered much, much food for thought.

Coda: More of my recent essays on recent Sino-Japanese relations, and Iris Chang, as reflected in the Chinese press and in the work of Japanese manga artists like Kobayshi Yoshinori can be accessed here.