Based in USC Dornsife, the USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education has embarked on a historic effort to preserve the testimonies of the last survivors of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanjing. The institute is doing so in partnership with the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall.
Testimonies in the new Nanjing collection seek to establish full-life histories of the individuals, including their social and cultural life before and after the Nanjing Massacre.
On Dec. 13, 1937, the Japanese army captured what was then China’s capital city, Nanjing, and killed as many as 300,000 civilians and numerous unarmed Chinese soldiers over the course of two months.
The testimonies will add new perspectives and knowledge to the history of the Nanjing Massacre and will be integrated into the institute’s Visual History Archive (VHA) in February.
The interview procedure was informed by the institute’s experience in having gathered testimony from survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust, and survivors and witnesses to both the Cambodian and Rwandan Tutsi genocides. This new collection is additive to the existing collections of Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, which currently holds around 4,000 testimonies collected mainly in a written form over the past 20 years, as well as a smaller number of audio-visual testimonies filmed in the 1990s.
The memorial hall will play an essential role throughout its international collaboration with the USC Shoah Foundation, from survivor outreach to providing expertise in supporting the interview methodology and process — acting as the crucial link to the Nanjing survivor community and providing expertise in this historical chapter. A local team, whose services were donated by Beijing-based Long Legacy International Communications, a company specializing in large-scale events, filmed the testimonies. A staff researcher of Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall conducted the interviews. The Siezen Foundation has provided funding for the Nanjing collection.
“The collaborative project between Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and the USC Shoah Foundation has surpassed any ordinary archival collection or media report on the experiences of Nanjing Massacre witnesses,” said Zhu Chenshan, director of the memorial hall. “Through objective and standardized research with historical significance and practical value, it is an insight into both living conditions and psychological conditions of survivors. It will reveal how traumatic memories, tragedy culture and historical ruins may impact on the progress of civilization.
“So many Holocaust survivors have told us that it’s not enough to say ‘never again’ and ignore the suffering of others,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation. “The effort to preserve memories of survivors of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre is not only a natural step for the USC Shoah Foundation, it’s a responsibility that we all share together.”
Cecilia Chan, president of the Siezen Foundation, said that “all human beings belong to one race, the human race.”
“People need to learn from atrocities such as the Holocaust, the Nanjing Massacre and other horrific acts of violence,” Chan said. “By enabling students to know history through studies of survivors’ testimonies, we can create sustainable behavioral changes in individuals as well as increase positive outcomes in the world. The work of the USC Shoah Foundation is vitally important and very worthy of global support.”
With approximately 200 survivors alive today, the need to preserve a significant collection of comprehensive video testimonies has become urgent. The goal is to record up to 100 testimonies with survivors, scholars and experts on video for the VHA. In addition to being available through the VHA, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall will receive a full copy of the completed collection.
As the Nanjing testimonies are integrated into the VHA, they will be made available as a distinct collection within the archive alongside collections of eyewitnesses to other genocides that the institute has collected from Armenia, Cambodia and Rwanda. The institute has long identified the need to preserve memories of other genocides as each collection provides context for the others, enabling scholars to study eyewitness experiences across time, locations, cultures and sociopolitical circumstances.