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Photos document brutality in Shanghai

grainy photo
September 23, 1996
Web posted at: 10:15 a.m. EDT (1415 GMT)

From Bangkok Bureau Chief Tom Mintier

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Relations between Japan and China, strained in recent months over a disputed chain of uninhabited islands, may fray even further because of 18 small, grainy black and white photos taken 59 years ago.

(113 sec./937K QuickTime movie - Warning: contains violent images.)movie icon

The photos, taken by a Swiss photographer near Shanghai in 1937, all depict the brutality of Chinese soldiers toward Japanese prisoners and Shanghai residents accused of helping the Japanese as they began their military conquest of China.

The photos are so disturbing that Tom Simmen, who was in Shanghai on business and asked to witness the executions by the Chinese, kept them hidden away. But he told his son to make them public.

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  • "It was his wish that I publish it," said John Simmen. "He said it would finance his stay in the hospital."

    John Simmen

    John Simmen is now trying to find a publisher for the graphic photos. He said that he has been offered 3,000 German marks per photo, but that his primary concern is to let people know what his father told him happened in Shanghai.

    "They enjoyed it," Simmen said. "They (were) waiting for the head to get cut off, then they took the head and played football ... I mean that was a terrible thing." (13sec./134K AIFF or WAV sound)icon Image of decapitated bodies.

    Simmen's father told him that the Chinese soldiers used a variety of torture methods on prisoners, including suspending them in wooden cages by the neck until they died of starvation. Image of man being tortured.

    Some were shot, and their bodies stacked for mass burials. Others, mostly Chinese nationals accused of aiding the Japanese, were beheaded with a large sword.Image of bodies in a cart.

    "For a Chinese," Simmen said, "somebody collaborating at that time with Japanese was worse than the Japanese because he sold out his own people."


    Simmen said that his father destroyed the negatives before leaving China, and that his then-pregnant mother smuggled the prints out under her clothing.

    The photos, Simmen said, will most likely reopen the wounds of war for many Japanese and Chinese with connections to Shanghai in 1937. But unlike the atrocities committed by the German Nazis during World War II, he said, too many have forgotten what happened in China.


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