Japanese burying 5 Chinese alive
Five Chinese prisoners being buried alive

Denying Genocide: The Evolution of the Denial of the Holocaust and the Nanking Massacre

by Joseph Chapel
May 2004

student research paper for
UCSB History 133P proseminar, Spring 2004
Prof. Marcuse (Courses page, homepage)
to 133p proseminar homepage; papers index page


Denial of the Rape
of Nanking
another paper:
Human soap
another paper:
Protocols ... Zion
another paper:
Denier interview

Introduction: "Revisionism" vs. Denial (back to top)

Two of the greatest mass murders of the twentieth century were the Holocaust and the Nanking Massacre. However, both incidents have been denied from the day they occurred, and remain to be denied today despite the large amount of evidence that shows that they both, in fact did occur. Genocides throughout the twentieth century have been denied and this paper will look at the evolution of the denial of the Holocaust and the Nanking massacre. Two other examples would be the Rwandan genocide and the Armenian genocide. The genocide in Rwanda was denied by the United States until President Bill Clinton publicly acknowledged it [in 200x?]. The Armenian genocide is still denied today by Turkey and by certain of its allies such as France. Before delving into the growth of denial and the denier methods it is important to have a firm grasp on what is meant by such words as Holocaust, massacre, revisionism and denial. According to Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman, professor of the History of Science at Occidental College and editor in chief of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual, "when historians talk about the 'Holocaust', what they mean on the most general level is that about six million Jews were killed in an intentional and systematic fashion by the Nazis using a number of different means, including gas chambers."[1] Iris Chang, author of The Rape of the Nanking, calls the Nanking massacre, "Nanjing Datusha [which translates to] the single most diabolical incident committed by the Japanese in a war that killed more than 10 millions Chinese people."[2] Shermer and Grobman describe three possible tiers that historians can fall on. The first two are historical objectivity and historical relativity, which are both flawed. They continue by describing the third tier, historical science, by stating:

the paradox of history is resolved on the third tier – the tier were all historians reside when they are truly practicing history. Without this tier, there could be no progress of knowledge or advance in our understanding of the past and it is on this tier where we can more easily distinguish between rational revision and dogmatic denial.[3]

At the end of World War Two, when concentration camps were being liberated and the terrible atrocities of the Nazis being realized, Dwight D. Eisenhower foresaw that such horrible crimes against humanity would one day be denied. After visiting Buchenwald in April 1945 he gave the following speech:

I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that 'the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda'… I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton's headquarters that evening, I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures.[4]

Eisenhower was aware of the chances of denial for such a large, catastrophic event, and the same can be same for the Nanking Massacre, which foreign officials recorded meticulously as can be seen in the diary of John Rabe, a Nazi businessman stationed in Nanking, or in the numerous documents kept by Miner Searle Bates, a history professor at Nanking University, both of whom ran the Nanking Safety Zone. In both cases it was obvious that there would one day be a desire to distort the truth because they had both started to be denied and have the facts distorted before the war was even over. This research will show the evolution of Holocaust denial and denial of the Nanking Massacre and see the differences and similarities between the two.

Before delving into the growth and change of denial throughout the years I want to give an example of proper revisionism. Many people once believed, and some still do, that during World War II the Nazis made soap from human remains. Such stories came from prisoners in the concentration camps who received bars of soap marked with 'RIF'. However, many prisoners "misread this as 'RJF' and thought it stood for Rein Judisches Fett, or 'pure Jewish Fat'."[5] Many people, such as Holocaust survivor Judith Berg, who appeared on the Donahue show in March 1994, still believe that soap was made from human fat in Auschwitz. However, research has shown that the Nazis attempted on a small scale to make soap from human fat, but it was never widely used. It was only experimented with in small proportion. There is evidence that shows that soap was manufactured in small quantities near Stutthof camp, which is about twenty miles from the city of Danzig. Sigmund Mazur testified at the war crimes trial that he helped in experiments in creating human soap. He gave the following detailed description of what he did:

I boiled the soap out of the bodies of women and men. The process of boiling alone took several days – from 3 to 7. During two manufacturing processes, in which I directly participated, more than 25 kilograms of soap were produced. The amount of human fat necessary for these two processes was 70 to 80 kilograms collected from some 40 bodies. The finished soap then went to Professor Spanner, who kept it personally. The work for the production of soap from Human bodies has, as far as I know, also interested Hitler's Government. The Anatomic Institute was visited by the Minster of Education, Rust; the Reichsgesundheitsführer [Reich health minister], Doctor Conti; the Gauleiter [party regional leader] of Danzig, Albert Forster; as well as professors from other medical institutes. I used this human soap for my personal needs, for toilet and laundering. For myself I took 4 kilograms of this soap.[6]

This evidence shows that human soap was an interest of certain officials in Nazi Germany and was experimented on. Soap samples were also shown to the court. Although there were eyewitnesses and samples of small traces of human soap Thomas Blatt, a Holocaust survivor from Sobibor, who researched the human soap controversy intensely, concluded that he "found no evidence of mass production of soap from human fat, but indeed, there is without any doubt enough evidence of the experimental cannibalism in soap making in the cellars of the former Institute of Hygiene in Gdansk."[7] So, through proper investigation proper revisionism was demonstrated and human soap production, although experimented with, was not widely practiced in the Holocaust.

Holocaust Denial (back to top)

The first stage of Holocaust denial took place before the war had ended and immediately afterwards. The first case of trying to distort the truth of what had happened in the Holocaust was led by members of the Nazi party. In 1944, according to Gerry Gable, editor of the antifascist monthly Searchlight, people who were in the SS:

who were propagandists, who were involved in the camp system, knew they lost the war, and left Germany. Sweden was one of the places they went. Some went to the Arab states, and into some South American countries. There they began to work for the readjustment of history. Holocaust denial material first appeared very very early after the war.[8]

Within a few years of the end of the war the deniers' claim became stronger. One of the first Holocaust deniers was Paul Rassinier, a French Holocaust survivor. He wrote the book Le Mensonge d'Ulysse in 1949, which was translated into English after his death in 1967. As Deborah Lipstadt points out in her book Denying the Holocaust, soon after the war "the foundation had been laid for those who would not simply seek to relativize or mitigate Germany's actions – the arguments they needed to buttress their charges of a Holocaust 'hoax' had been made, some voiced by legitimate historians and others expressed by extremist politicians and journalists."[9] Much similar to this we will see later the Japanese used their politicians and journalists to deny the Nanking Massacre and claim it as a propaganda invention of the Chinese. Around 1947 a French fascist by the name of Maurice Bardèche came out with two books that established his place as a Holocaust denier. Besides claiming that eyewitnesses and evidence had been falsified, he continued by saying that "the final solution of the Jewish problem was really referring to the proposed transfer of Jews to ghettos in the east."[10] He attributed this to a mistranslation of the German word ausrotten. The word in conflict is ausrotten, which had been translated to mean the Final Solution and killing of the Jews, or as more widely used by deniers of the Holocaust to mean transportation to the east. To directly translate ausrotten from German into English it comes out to be to extirpate or exterminate. This has been the definition of ausrotten from the 1940's and remains the same definition as of 1994. However, in 1994 David Irving, a leading denier of the Holocaust, claimed that:

Different words mean different things when uttered by different people. What matters is what that word meant when uttered by Hitler. I would first draw attention to the famous memorandum on the Four-Year Plan of August 1936. In that Adolf Hitler says, 'we are going to have to get our armed forces in a fighting state within four years so that we can go to war within the Soviet Union. If the Soviet Union should ever succeed in overrunning Germany it will lead to the ausrotten of the German people.' There's that word. There is no way that Hitler can mean the physical liquidation of eighty million Germans. What he means is that it will lead to the emasculation of the German people as a power factor.[11]

However, this is simply a post hoc rationalization of the meaning of ausrotten. A post hoc rationalization is a fallacy based upon the idea that simply because one thing follows another, that the first was the cause of the second. Simply because the Soviet Union did not overrun Germany and kill eighty million Germans does not mean that this was because the Soviets did not wish to kill them. However, the true meaning of ausrotten can be seen in numerous other documents. For example, in a 1944 conference about what to do with the American troops, Hitler said "to ausrotten them division by division"[12] Also when Major Rudolf Brandt told the Reich physician Ernst Robert Grawitz about the "Ausrottung der tuberkulose"[13] In the first case it is obvious that ausrotten means to eliminate because Hitler wants the American troops to be eliminated division by division. There is no other way to interpret this; Hitler did not plan on removing American troops to the East. In the second case tuberculosis was a disease that was wiping out not only the concentration camps but the German population as well so ausrotten could mean nothing else except elimination. The dilemma behind the translation of ausrotten was brought out in the deniers fight to make people believe that the Holocaust did not happen, but as seen ausrotten could mean nothing else but the physical elimination of a people.

Throughout the 1960s, after the first wave of deniers who were around during the war had died, only one book had gained widespread recognition. This was the book The Myth of the Six Million by David Hoggan, which was highly cited and used by Willis Carto, who would go on to found the Institute of Historical Review in 1979, and who would start to lead the deniers movement in the late 1970s and continue to the present.

The Institute of Historical Review was founded in 1979 by Willis Carto. They called themselves revisionists but were in fact denying the Holocaust. The first big event the Institute of Historical Review put on was a reward of fifty thousand dollars to whomever could prove that the Holocaust had actually happened. They sent out letters inviting Holocaust survivors to attend their second 'revisionist' convention and try to prove their case. Auschwitz survivor Mel Mermelstein responded, and when he got no response from the Institute he threatened to sue. Next, the Institute promised to try the case but with their own judges. When this did not seem to be working Mermelstein filed a civil suit against Carto and McCalden and the judge ruling the case "took judicial notice of the fact that Jews had been gassed to death in Auschwitz, ruling that it was not 'subject to dispute' but was 'simply a fact'."[14] In the end, the court awarded Mermelstein ninety thousand dollars and the Institute of Historical Review lost a major case. The Institute also published a journal that was called the Journal of Historical Review and written by and edited by the most popular IHR members: Robert Faurisson, John Ball, Russ Granata, Carlo Mattogno, Ernst Zündel, Friedrich Berg, Greg Raven, David Cole, Mark Weber, and David Irving.

The 1980s and 1990s saw the popularity of the denial movement spread into the mainstream. The two leading figures of the time were Mark Weber and David Irving. The denial movement especially grew in Germany, who was at the time tracking down the last Nazi war criminals. Germany received most of their materials from the Institute of Historical Review who had started translated its materials into German. The IHR's audience is "thousands of neo-Nazi skinheads in Germany who are making the political structure respond to their antiforeigner xenophobic agenda – an agenda that includes Holocaust denial as an ideological cornerstone."[15] This Holocaust denial comes from a particular liking of all things German, often including Nazi Germany and even Hitler. These deniers are "building on this fascination [and] want to remake the history of the Nazis into something positive."[16] They attempt to do this by exonerating the Nazis and German population and instead turn the blame around on the Jews under the claims of a Zionist Conspiracy or blame it on the Jewish media or the Jewish world banking system. David Irving himself supposedly visited Hitler's mountain retreat and treated it as a shrine. Holocaust denial was soon to spread to the academic world of higher education. Henri Roques, a grad student in 1985 "received a doctorate from the University of Nantes for his thesis, which argued that Auschwitz had no gas chambers."[17] Roques has been associated with the IHR since his thesis was written. Roques's thesis was invalidated by the French minister of higher education only a year later in 1986. However, this still shows a growing interest and active participation in the denial movement. No longer was Holocaust denial a practice of fringe groups and ultra conservatives, but it now was in being practiced in academic circles. French Holocaust denial got the largest boost in 1987 "from the leader of the right-wing, xenophobic, racist National Party, Jean-Marie Le Pen."[18] Like most early 1980s Holocaust deniers Le Pen was active on a fringe groups, a far right political party. David Irving, who was once called a soft core denier, was given the new name of hardcore denier after he read The Leuchter Report and defending Ernst Zündel in 1988 after Zündel was arrested in Canada.

Fred Leuchter, the man who wrote The Leuchter Report, has become an icon to Holocaust deniers by denying that the Nazis ever used gas chambers to kill Jews in Poland during World War Two. He stated that the purpose of his report and:

... the investigation upon which it is based is to determine whether the alleged execution gas chambers and crematory facilities at three (3) sites in Poland, namely Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek, could have operated in the manner ascribed them in Holocaust literature…. This purpose does not include a determination of any numbers of persons who died or were killed by means other than gassing or as to whether an actual Holocaust occurred. It, further, is not the intent of this author to redefine the Holocaust in historical terms, but simply to supply scientific evidence and information obtained at the actual sites and to render an opinion based on all available scientific, engineering and quantitative data as to the purpose and usages of the alleged execution gas chambers and crematory facilities at the investigated locations.[19]

Leuchter claims that he is not attempting to deny the Holocaust; he is simply trying to research the engineering of the gas chambers in the major death camps. He comes up with the following conclusion:

After a study of the available literature, examination and evaluation of the existing facilities at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek, with expert knowledge of the design criteria for gas chamber operation, an investigation of crematory technology and an inspection of modern crematories, the author finds no evidence that any of the facilities normally alleged to be execution gas chambers were ever used as such, and finds, further, that because of the design and fabrication of these facilities, they could not have been utilized for execution gas chambers.[20]

Leuchter is more simply saying that the gas chambers were never used to kill anyone during World War Two. However, historians see the Holocaust as the time when six million Jews were intentionally killed using gas chambers along with other means. Therefore, Leuchter is in fact denying the Holocaust, and is soon after publishing his book looked upon as a figure of high status in the denier circles. Leuchter may seem to know what he is researching and talking about since he claims to be an expert engineer with a college degree but Leuchter was "a man with a B.A. in history masquerading as an engineer."[21] Leuchter was not a highly educated man. He never went beyond undergraduate work, and while doing it he did not even focus or major in engineering so his engineering expertise should not be taken as completely valid.

The 1990s saw the greatest growth of Holocaust denial away from the fringe groups, the far right political parties, and the newly added academies and saw denial jump into the population; the everyday people. In a speech in July 1991 Elie Wiesel, author of Night was giving a speech in his native country of Romania when he was interrupted by "a woman in the front row who shouted 'It's a lie! The Jews didn't die. We won't allow Romanians to be insulted by foreigners in their own country.'" [22] The early 1990s also saw the spread of Holocaust denial into Mexico and the nations of South America. The IHR began spreading denier material around Mexico city and denial literature was "published in Peru by a predominantly young neo-Nazi group: the Tercios Nacional Socialists de la Nueva Castilla (National Socialist Corps of the New Castille)."[23] Less than fifty years after the end of World War Two, after anti-Semitism appeared to have died down it suddenly surged again. A survey conducted in Austria in 1991 showed that "39 percent of Austrians believe that 'Jews have caused much harm in the course if history.' Thirty seven percent agreed that 'Jews exert too much influence on world events.' Nineteen percent believed 'it would be better for Austria not to have Jews in the country.'"[24] These numbers show that about twenty percent of Austrians, as of 1991, had hardcore anti-Semitic beliefs. These high percentages of racist Austrians and Austrians who believed the Zionist Conspiracy, made their nation ripe for deniers to move in and exploit the situation to gain numbers for their cause.

Before going any further, it is important to understand what the supposed Zionist Conspiracy was. The origins of the conspiracy can be found in the book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which after investigating was shown to be a fraud [see Hist 33d paper on the Protocols]. The book is said to have originated in Russia during the nineteenth century and is alleged to prove the Jews conspired to control the world through financial and economical means. It claims that the Jews planned on setting the price of gold and world monies and take over the media to spread their propaganda and eventually control the world. An extreme example of this can be seen in a 1982 U.K. news article entitled "'Holocaust' Story an Evil Hoax" and claims that "the 'Holocaust' lie was perpetrated by Zionist-Jewry's stunning propaganda machine for the purpose of filling the minds of Gentile people the world over with such guilt feelings about the Jews that they would utter no protest when the Zionists robbed the Palestinians of their homeland with the utmost savagery."[25]

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion can be most easily obtained in Japan out of all industrialized nations in the world. Japan was also the last major place hit by Holocaust denial during the 1990s. The argument used was the moral equivalency argument which stated that what the Germans did to the Jews was no worse than what the Americans did to the interned Japanese. Granted, the way in which American policy treated the Japanese Americans was brutal and wrong, but it did not compare to the intentional elimination of six millions Jews. As will be seen in the second half of this paper, the Japanese, in addition to denying the Holocaust, were also busy denying their own genocide against the Chinese in what is known as the Nanking Massacre or the Rape of Nanking in late 1937 and early 1938.

Denial of the 'Rape of Nanking' (back to top)

In 1931 Japan attempted to annex Manchuria and started a war with China. Japan pushed onward through mainland China, eventually conquering Shanghai. Nanking was captured on December 13, 1937. What followed in Nanking was six weeks of torture, mass murder, and mass rapes of Chinese noncombatants by Japanese soldiers. The Nanking Massacre was summarized at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East as follows:

The Japanese soldiers swarmed over the city and committed various atrocities. According to one of the eyewitnesses they were let loose like a barbarian horde to desecrate the city. It was said by eyewitnesses that the city appeared to have fallen into the hands of the Japanese as captured prey, that it had not merely been taken in organized warfare, and that the members of the victorious Japanese Army had set upon the prize to commit unlimited violence. Individual soldiers and small groups of two or three roamed over the city murdering, raping, looting, and burning. There was no discipline whatever. Many soldiers were drunk. Soldiers went through the streets indiscriminately killing Chinese men, women, and children without apparent provocation or excuse until in places the streets and alleys were littered with the bodies of their victims. According to another witness, Chinese were hunted like rabbits, everyone seen to move was shot. At least 12,000 non-combatant Chinese men, women and children met their deaths in these indiscriminate killings during the first two or three days of the Japanese occupation of the city.[26]

There were many witnesses and documents capturing the atmosphere of Nanking in those tragic six weeks. There is no concrete number of Chinese killed during these six weeks just as there is no concrete number to the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. Most historians, investigative journalists, and government officials put the range between 200,000 and 430,000 with the average being around 260,000 (this is also the number the International Tribunal of the Far East used). Deniers put the number killed much lower at around 3,000. However, similar to the Holocaust it started to be denied during the massacre and continues to the present, with a pause in denial activities from the 1950s to the 1970s which will be explained soon.

There are more than numerous accounts showing that the Nanking Massacre did occur in the winter of 1937. These sources come from American, German and even Japanese sources. The greatest source was the diary of John Rabe. John Rabe was a German Nazi who lived in Nanking. He was a businessman and has come to be compared to Oskar Schindler because although he was a Nazi, he did not partake in any atrocities and in the case of Nanking, he was the reason why close to 200,000 Chinese were saved. Rabe had written letters to Hitler himself asking him to talk to the Japanese and to stop the mindless murder and rape. However, Rabe's letters were never answered and upon returning to Germany after the Nanking Massacre he was constantly harassed by the SS and Gestapo. While in Nanking, Rabe was the chairman for the International Committee of the Nanking Safety Zone. Rabe kept a detailed diary that was unearthed by Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking. John Rabe's diary entry of December 16 is a typical entry as he writes that "the road to Hsiakwan is nothing but a field of corpses strewn with the remains of military equipment….There are executions everywhere, some are being carried out with machine guns outside the barracks of the War Ministry."[27] Rabe witnessed many atrocities. Since he rarely left the Safety Zone he only witnessed the atrocities within the walls and did not see the mass murder of up to 20,000 Chinese at a time a little distance outside the walls of Nanking. John Rabe also got the impression that the Japanese were trying to hide their atrocities. His December 21 entry says that "there can no longer be any doubt that the Japanese are burning the city, presumably to erase all traces of their looting and thievery."[28] Rabe believed that the Japanese were attempting to destroy all the evidence of their atrocities and his diaries would later be attacked the same way. Ursula Reinhardt, John Rabe's granddaughter, had possession of Rabe's diaries since he had died in 1950. Iris Chang insisted that Reinhardt release them for the Alliance in the Memory of Victims of the Nanking Massacre, an organization who hoped to keep the Nanking Massacre from disappearing. When Reinhardt finally agreed to release the diaries to the public Shao Tzuping, a past president of the Alliance in the Memory of Victims of the Nanking Massacre, had Reinhardt and her husband flown to New York City because he was "fearful that right-wing Japanese might break into her house and destroy the diaries or offer the family large sums of money to buy up the originals."[29] However, the diaries were successfully copied and donated to the Yale University library.

Miner Bates, as seen earlier, was a history professor at Nanking University and when he finally managed to leave Nanking, he was able to take many documents with him. These including diary entries, letters to the Japanese embassy which was stationed right outside the walls of Nanking, and many other documents. Letters leaving Nanking were censored as is evident by a passage Bates writes stating in a letter to a friend on December 31, 1937, "friends in Shanghai will pick this up from the Consulate-General, and will get away somehow on a foreign boat without censorship."[30] After writing about the problem with censorship, in the same letter Bates tries to describe the atrocities he has witnessed:

more than ten thousand unarmed persons have been killed in cold blood. Most of my trusted friends would put the figure much higher. These were Chinese soldiers who threw down their arms or surrendered after being trapped; and civilians recklessly shot and bayoneted, often without even the pretext that they were soldiers, including not a few women and children. Able German colleagues put the cases of rape at 20,000….You can scarcely imagine the anguish and terror. Girls as young as 11 and women as old as 53 have been raped on University property alone.[31]

One more American source was Robert Wilson, the last surgeon in Nanking. As a surgeon he saw many of the tortured and half dead Chinese stumble into the hospital. Many cases involved severe burning, numerous bayonet wounds, and many were rape victims. The short entries he jotted down in his diary gives further evidence of what was going on:

December 15: The slaughter of civilians is appalling. I could go on for pages telling of cases of rape and brutality almost beyond belief.
December 18: Today marks the 6th day of modern Dante's Inferno, written in huge letters with blood and rape. Murder by the wholesale and rapes by the thousands of cases. There seems to be no stop to the ferocity, lust and stavism of the brutes. At first I tried to be pleasant to them to avoid arousing their ire, but the smile has gradually worn off and my stare is fully as cool and fishy s theirs.[32]

The evidence John Rabe, Miner Bates, and Robert Wilson provide is more than adequate to show the mass murder of the Chinese by the Japanese. To further their case, Rabe and Bates also included many pictures in their diaries and letters that cannot be put into words. However, they were not the only people to see this atrocious event.

However, as further proof of the Nanking Massacre, Japanese journalists also wrote their reactions to the horrific scenes they witnessed. These refute the idea of the massacre being Western propaganda against the Japanese nation. Imai Masatake, a military correspondent puts it best when he writes:

On Hsiakwan wharves, there was the dark silhouette of a mountain made of dead bodies. About fifty to one hundred people were toiling there, dragging bodies from the mountain of corpses and throwing them into the Yangtze River. The bodies dripped blood, some of them still alive and moaning weakly, their limbs twitching. The laborers were busy working in total silence, as in a pantomime…. A Japanese officer at the scene estimated that 20,000 persons had been executed.[33]

The mass rapes were also talked about as described by Azuma Shiro, a soldier: "we took turns raping them. It would be all right if we only raped them. I shouldn't say all right. But we always stabbed and killed them. Because dead bodies don't talk."[34] It was not only soldiers that took place in the murders and rapes but officers and generals as well. The higher officers "not only urged soldiers to commit gang rape in the city but warned them to dispose of the women afterwards to eliminate evidence of the crime."[35] The officers knew it would be bad publicity if word of the way the Japanese were treating the Chinese got out of Nanking. Due to this many raped women were killed afterwards simply to cover up. Now that it is evident of the Japanese atrocities in Nanking, it is necessary to look into the denial movement of the Nanking Massacre.

Matsui Iwane, one of the major three generals in the Nanking expedition, was not present when Nanking was taken. He had come under sickness from tuberculosis and was weak when he arrived to Nanking on December 17, 1937 since he was not fully recovered. He had come to Nanking for a ceremonial parade and "he rode down a boulevard that was carefully cleared of dead bodies and flanked by tens of thousands of cheering soldiers."[36] Iwane was deeply involved in the Buddhist religion and was seen as the most moral general of the Japanese army. He also held the army up to high standards that he believed all Japanese should live be. It was because of this that the path Iwane would take was cleared away and he was left in the dark of the atrocities that had been taken place and would continue to take place when he left. However, Iwane soon realized the extent to which the mindless murder, rape, and looting went and gave a speech to the press on December 18 which stated, "I now realize that we have unknowingly wrought a most grievous effect on this city. When I think of the feelings and sentiments of many of my Chinese friends who have fled from Nanking and of the future of the two countries, I cannot but feel depressed. I am very lonely and can never get in a mood to rejoice about this victory."[37] Iwane then transferred all unnecessary troops out of the city. However, before Iwane could do anything else he was sent to Shanghai, where he upset Japanese officials by giving a statement to the New York Times that showed Japan in a negative light. However, attempting to hide the massacre from Iwane only the first step of denial; Japan also led a large propaganda war attempting to alleviate the blame from them.

Instead of disciplining their troops the Japanese officials decided to use propaganda and hide it. Starting on December 27, the Japanese started giving tours of the city to Japanese civilians who was ferried in from Shanghai. George Fitch, secretary of the YMCA in Nanking comments, "Carefully they were herded through the few streets now cleared of corpses….Graciously they passed sweets to Chinese children and patted their frightened heads…tremendously please with themselves, also with Japan's wonderful victory, but of course they hear nothing of the real truth – nor does the rest of the world, I suppose."[38] The Japanese were able to convince the Japanese public that everything in Nanking was in good order by clearing a few streets of bodies only showing those parts of the city. The Japanese also tried to spread the lie that it was not the Japanese that had committed such atrocities but soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek. Lewis Smythe, an American missionary and sociology professor at the University of Nanking, wrote in a letter on March 8, 1938, "Now the latest is from the Japanese paper that they found eleven Chinese armed robbers who were to blame for it all!"[39] With this elaborate story the Japanese tried to blame the entire six week massacre on eleven Chinese robbers who looted everything, killed hundreds of thousands of people and raped close to 80,000 women. In addition to this the Japanese also dropped leaflets over Nanking and the surrounding areas from planes that blamed the brutal treatment of civilians on certain Chinese soldiers, and exonerated the Japanese with ideas that the Japanese were fighting back against these aggressors, and trying to feed all the civilians of the Nanking area. There is one last example of denial during the Massacre that is reminiscent of the Holocaust.

In April 1939, after the brutal actions of the Japanese had calmed, a Japanese research facility was opened. It was called Ei 1644 and hoped to conduct experiments on epidemics by using Chinese as human guinea pigs. This paper was published on the UCSB Hist 133p website. However, the facility was shrouded in secrecy and besides being covered by a large brick wall and constantly being patrolled by guards, scientists were "ordered never to mention Ei 1644 in their letters back to Japan."[40] The facility was discovered when a small group of scientists confessed after being interrogated at the International Military Tribunal of the Far East. The denial continued after the war had ended.

Shortly after the Sino-Japanese War, while the Japanese were fighting the Allies Ishikawa Tatsuzo came out with his book Living Soldiers, which came out in installments. It tells the story of a unit of the Japanese army, making its way through China. It was banned from Japan and Tanaka Masaaki, a soldier in the Sino-Japanese War, and an adamant denier of the Nanking Massacre states the reasons it was denied:

    1. Scenes in which Japanese soldiers brutally and indiscriminately slaughter enemy soldiers and noncombatants;
    2. Scenes that show Japanese soldiers looting in the South China battle zone, and create the impression that looting is an integral part of military policy;
    3. Scenes in which Japanese soldiers assault Chinese noncombatants while robbing them;
    4. Scenes in which Japanese soldiers violently assault Chinese women and girls in order to satisfy their sexual desires.[41]

Japan continued denying the Nanking Massacre in a similar fashion for the next ten years; following the ideas of using propaganda against the rest of the world, and blatantly denying that Japanese soldiers had done anything wrong.

Throughout the time between the end of the war and the 1950s the Ministry of Education in Japan gradually gained more power over the school system until in 1955 when it banned one third of the text books in use. The Ministry of Education "demanded that textbooks avoid tough criticism of Japan's role in the Pacific War, and the government regarded as inappropriate any description of Japan as invading China."[42] Japan simply eliminated the whole Sino-Japanese War from their school textbooks and refused to teach the children of Japan their true history. This textbook distortion remained in effect for twenty years, and the Nanking Massacre simply disappeared, until it was attacked in the 1970s, which also saw the rise of the denial movement.

In 1972 Honda Katsuchi, a Japanese investigative journalist, visited Nanking and decided to research the Nanking Massacre from the point of view as the victims, not as the aggressors. In doing this he uncovered an incident from December 1937, when two lieutenants had a killing contest to see who could be the first to decapitate one hundred Chinese people. Iris Chang mentions the incident in her book but does not elaborate very much. In the end, the two lieutenants called it a tie at 105 and 106 because neither was sure at the exact time they had killed their hundredth victim. Honda was refuted by Yamamoto Shichihei who claimed that the story fraudulent because "Honda did not initially disclose the names of the two lieutenants involved."[43] However, upon further searching Honda stated that the reason was because he did not want to incriminate the two lieutenants or their families. This was the coming of denial of the Nanjing Massacre.

The next large denial case was the issue with the Japanese school textbooks. They had been censored back in 1950 and were now being challenged. Ienaga Saburo, a Japanese historian, sued the courts for distorting history and not mentioning the massacre. The Nanking Massacre "was still absent from elementary school textbooks [but] junior high school textbooks such as those published by Nihon shoseki and Kyōiku Shuppan in 1975, for instance, mentioned that forty-two thousand Chinese residents, including women and children, were killed during the Massacre."[44] Two other textbooks mentioned the massacre but the four other textbooks in use in Japan did not mention it all. By 1978 the Ministry of Education was able to remove the numbers killed out of all text books in use. When Ienaga was in court "extremists fired off death threats to the plaintiff attorneys, the judge, and Ienaga himself."[45] Honda and Ienaga had tried to get the truth out about the Nanking Massacre but in doing so touched on the larger subject of accepting war guilt as victimizers.

The 1980s saw a rise in conservatism in Japan and textbooks once again came under scrutiny. Once again the government tried to tone down the wording of school textbooks. A few examples of this are "'Japan's aggression in China' was replaced with 'Japan's occupation of Manchuria'."[46] Also, "'the Meiji government's repeated wars and aggressions' was toned down to 'the Meiji government's continued expansion policy'."[47] Ian Buruma, a writer, furthers shows this be stating that "all it says in a typical textbook [in 1982] for high school students is: 'In December [1937] Japanese troops occupied Nanking'."[48] As it can be seen from numerous accounts the textbooks used in Japan were highly censored and were in fact denying the Nanking Massacre, a product of the Ministry of Education officials. However, by the mid 1980s a new wave of so called revisionists had emerged. Among there were Watanabe Shōichi, an English professor, Suzuki Akira, a writer reemerged, and the most famous was the ex soldier turned denier Tanaka Masaaki, who would lead the denial movement in Japan. The pinnacle of Masaaki's work was his book titled What Really Happened in Nanking: the Refutation of a Common Myth. In it he takes popular knowledge of the Nanking Massacre and attempts to refute it. He is not very successful (as seen earlier) and suffers from mistakes such as: illogical conclusions, exploiting single facts into the entire massacre, and blatant denial. In 1986 Hora Tomio, a writer, wrote The Proof of the Nanjing Massacre and refuted Masaaki's major arguments and "pointed out Tanaka's mistakes, misinterpretations, and distortions of historical evidence."[49] One last example of government censorship and denial can be seen in Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Last Emperor (1987). In this film:

there are pictures, some taken by Japanese photographers and some by Chinese or foreign witness, of Chinese men being used for bayonet practice, of people being machine gunned into open pits, of terrified women, huddling naked in rice paddies, trying to shield their private parts, of Japanese soldiers chipping off heads with their long swords, of corpses piled high on the banks of the Yangtze Ricer, and of dead women with bamboo sticks rammed up their vaginas.[50]

However, upon its release in Japan the Japanese distributors Shochiku Fuji deleted these scenes of the Japanese atrocities and later placed the blame on the British by saying they wanted the scenes taken out. One reason why the scenes could have been taken out was to avoid bad publicity for the Japanese. Extreme right wing, ultranationalists, groups (the same ones who had censored the textbooks) could be very intimidating. In Japan "to express true opinions about the Sino-Japanese War could be – and continues to be – career threatening, and even life threatening. (In 1990 a gunman shot Motoshima Hitoshi, mayor of Nagasaki, in the chest for saying that Emperor Horohito bore some responsibility for World War Two)."[51]

The 1990s finally saw a change in the blatant denial of history. In 1990 Emperor Horohito died; he was the final high ranking official of the Sino-Japanese War. Many people had earlier expressed discontent with the fact that Horohito had never been charged with any responsibility to the war. Since the death of Horohito more changes have come over Japan than in the decades before. Numerous soldiers are expressing remorse, or at least acknowledging the events they participated in. One soldier, Nagatomi Hakudo said in an interview:

I remember being driven in a truck along a path that had been cleared through piles of thousands and thousands of slaughtered bodies. Wild dogs were gnawing at the dead flesh as we stepped and pulled a group of Chinese prisoners out of the back. Then the Japanese officer proposed a test of my courage. He unsheathed his sword, spat on it, and with a sudden mighty swing he brought it down on the beck of a Chinese boy cowering before us. The head was cut clean off and tumbled away on the groups as the body slumped forwards, blood spurting in two great gushing fountains fro the neck. The officer suggested I take the head home as a souvenir. I remember smiling proudly as I took his sword and began killing people.[52]

Although after the war there had been a few soldiers who had talked about what happened, there was a giant leap in interviews, testimonies, and confessions after Horohito's death. Also, as of April 1997 all seven textbooks used in Japan talked about the Nanking Massacre. These upset many revisionists as they called it a distortion of truth and anti-Japanese propaganda. However, although Japan is making progress it is a very slow progress. For every step Japan takes forward, something tries to pull her down. In 1997, the textbooks were finally uncensored and the truth told, marking an incredible leap forward on the part of Japan, but in response a group of seventy eight deniers formed a group to object to the textbooks and to take out the Nanking Massacre.

As seen, denial is a part of the history of any genocide as can be seen in the quick references to Rwanda and Armenia, followed by the in depth researching of the Holocaust and Nanking. Although the Holocaust is denied by mostly anti-Semitic people, the Nanking Massacre is mostly denied by Japanese government officials and right wing Japanese political parties. However, deniers of both like to see their country of choice in a positive light, whether it be Germany or Japan. Denial, as seen in the two examples used, originated during the genocide; 1944 in the case of the Holocaust and 1937 in the case of the Nanking Massacre and continues to the present. Both denial groups have surges and drops, such as the surge in the late 1970s in Holocaust denial with the founding of the Institute of Historical Review or the drop in the 1960s of the Nanking Massacre with completely censored textbooks. However, in the end both atrocities are being denied and it is a job as a historian to tell the truth and the deniers' claims must be met and refuted so that one day when there are no survivors of the Holocaust of the Nanking Massacre, one can look back and see an accurate account of what happened during this ghastly times.

Notes (back to top)

[1] Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman. Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why do They Say it? (University of California Press: Los Angeles, 2002) page xv.

[2] Iris Chang. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust. (Penguin Books: New York, 1998) page 8.

[3] Shermer et al. Denying History. page 30.

[4] Dwight D. Eisenhower as cited in Shermer et al. Denying History. page 19-20.

[5] Shermer et al. Denying History. page 114.

[6] Shermer et al. Denying History. page 115-116.

[7] Thomas Blatt as cited in Shermer et al. Denying History. page 116.

[8] Kenneth Stern. Holocaust Denial. (The American Jewish Committee: New York, 1993) page 6.

[9] Deborah Lipstadt. Denying the Holocaust. (The Free Press: New York, 1993) page 47.

[10] Lipstadt. Denying the Holocaust. page 50.

[11] Shermer et al. Denying History. "Interview with David Irving". page 206.

[12] Shermer et al. Denying History. page 206.

[13] Shermer et al. Denying History. page 206.

[14] Lipstadt. Denying the Holocaust. page 141.

[15] Stern. Holocaust Denial. page 27.

[16] Stern. Holocaust Denial. page 27.

[17] Stern. Holocaust Denial. page 33-34.

[18] Stern. Holocaust Denial. page 34.

[19] Fred Leuchter. The Leuchter Report. (Samisdat Publishers, 1988) www.ihr.org/books/leuchter/purpose.html May 16, 2004.

[20] Leuchter. The Leuchter Report. http://www.ihr.org/books/leuchter/synopsis.html May 16, 2004.

[21] Stern. Holocaust Denial. page 31.

[22] New York Times, July 3, 1991 as cited in Stern. Holocaust Denial. page 38.

[23] Stern. Holocaust Denial. page 43.

[24] Fritz Karmasin. Austrian Attitued Toward Jews, Israel, and the Holocaust as cited in Stern. Holocaust Denial. page 36.

[25] R. Harwood. "Holocaust Story an Evil Hoax" as cited in Shermer et al. Denying History. page 80.

[26] Pritchard. The Tokyo War Crimes Trial volume 20, pages 49604-5 as cited in Joshua Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography. (University of California Press: Los Angeles, 2000) page 70-71.

[27] John Rabe. The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe. Edited by Erwin Wickert. (Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1998) page 76-76.

[28] Rabe. The Good Man of Nanking. page 84.

[29] Change. The Rape of Nanking. page 195.

[30] Zhang Kaiyuan. Eyewitnesses to Massacre. Armonk, NY: East Gate Books, 2001. page 14.

[31] Zhang Kaiyuan. Eyewitnesses to Massacre. page 14.

[32] Ibid. December 15 and 18, 1937 as cited in Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 126.

[33] Imai Masatake. "Japanese Aggression Troops' Atrocities in China" China Military Science Institute. 1986 page 143 as cited in Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 47.

[34] Azuma Shiro. In the Name of the Emperor as cited in Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 49.

[35] Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 50.

[36] Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 50.

[37] Okada Takashi. Testimony from International Military Tribunal of the Far Eat. page 32,738 as cited in Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 51.

[38] George Fitch. George Fitch's Diary reprinted in Readers Digest as cited in Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 150.

[39] Lewis Smythe. "Letter to Friends" as cited in Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 151.

[40] Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 164.

[41] Tanaka Masaaki. What Really Happened in Nanking: The Refutation of a Common Myth. (Sekai Shuppan Inc.: Tokyo, 2000) page 94.

[42] Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre. page 76.

[43] Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre. page 81.

[44] Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre. page 84.

[45] Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 207.

[46] Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre. page 85.

[47] Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre. page 85.

[48] Ian Buruma. The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan. (Farrar Straus Giroux: New York, 1994) page 114.

[49] Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre. page 90.

[50] Buruma. The Wages of Guilt. Page 113.

[51] Chang. The Rape of Nannking. Page 12.

[52] Chang. The Rape of Nanking. Page 59.

paper completed June 2004; prepared for web publication on 3/28/05 by H. Marcuse
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