I recently started volunteering for an educational non-governmental organization (NGO) called ALPHA Education. ALPHA Education works to promote awareness of the events of World War II in Asia to foster reconciliation, dialogue, and cross-cultural understanding. In part, this is achieved through providing educational resources and lesson guides that can be used by teachers and students. To add to these resources, ALPHA Education recently launched their Digital Archive Project to transcribe and digitize a large collection of primary sources related to World War II atrocities in Asia. These sources take the form of documentary images, videos, official correspondences, interrogations, and personal testimonies. As a volunteer for this project, I have been tasked with researching, contextualizing, and annotating primary sources in the collection. This will serve as a general summary for the digital collection, which will provide an educational resource for individuals investigating the experiences of civilians, soldiers, and prisoners of war in World War II in Asia.
Unfortunately, the atrocities that took place in Asia are little known to me, as this is an often overlooked and under-taught aspect of the Second World War. For this reason, I was drawn to this project for the opportunity to learn, help foster awareness, and contribute to a global conversation. I have seen depictions of the Tokyo War Crimes Trail, which prosecuted Japanese military and political authorities for war crimes, but I remain unaware of many of the atrocities comitted by the Imperial Japanese Army. To broaden my understanding of these atrocities, I decided to research Unit 731, and selected a Biological Warfare (BW) Report written in June 1945 as my primary document for the Digital Archive Project. Prepared by an American Army Medical Officer, this report investigates the use of BW by Japan in Changde, Hunan Province, China. In this report Chinese doctor, Dr. Tang Hsueh-Huo, was interviewed as the prime source of information regarding Japanese use of BW on 4 November 1941. This is a declassified document which was collected through a research exchange between ALPHA Education and Unit 731 Museum and Research Center in Harbin, China.
As of now, I am still in the process of researching Unit 731 and analyzing the BW Report in order to write its annotation. ALPHA Education offers a supportive environment, and provides electronic access to scholarly resources for volunteers to easily research and develop their historical analysis. While the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army are difficult to stomach, I hope to continue working on the Digital Archive Project and help promote awareness and reconciliation for the surviving victims and their families. If you are interested in learning more, the Unit 731 Museum and Research Center has a list of recommended documentaries that can be found here. Please note that these contain graphic content.