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Exhibition explores China-US WWII bonds

By Lia Zhu in San Francisco | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-11-08 11:16

An exhibition telling the story of Allied prisoners of war in one of the Japanese Army's most notorious POW camps is coming to the US.

The Forgotten Camp assembles photographs, drawings and artifacts from Japan's prisoner camp in Shenyang, China, during World War II.

The exhibition offers a glimpse into the hardships endured by nearly 2,000 Allied prisoners, some among the highest-ranking officers taken into captivity, at the Mukden POW Camp, also known as Shenyang World War II Allied POW Camp.

It also depicts the friendships that took root between the prisoners and the local Chinese workers who risked their lives to help them.

It will open to the public on Nov 21 and run through Dec 5 at the WWII Pacific War Memorial Hall in San Francisco.

The exhibition is called The Forgotten Camp because this camp and its story went unremembered for half a century until scholars uncovered it in 2003, said Fan Lihong, curator of the exhibition and director of the Site Museum of Shenyang POW Camp of WWII Allied Forces.

The camp housed 2,000 captives from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and France, from 1942 to 1945. About 1,200 were Americans.

"Compared with the European theater of World War II, I doubt the American public has heard as much about the atrocities the Japanese Imperial Army committed in China and other Asian countries, and the great sufferings the Japanese military inflicted upon the people, including the war prisoners," said Luo Linquan, Chinese consul general in San Francisco.

In the home country of those POWs, the exhibition offers American audiences a chance to learn about what happened during the war from a comprehensive perspective and recall the old days when the Americans and Chinese fought side by side and helped each other, said Luo.

What's special about the Shenyang camp is it was established to lock up the highest-ranking officials of the Allied forces taken prisoner during the war, according to Fan.

Among those notable inmates were US Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright, commander of Allied forces in the Philippines who would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics during the Fall of Bataan and Major General Edward King, who led the Battle of Bataan during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines.

As the best preserved Allied POW camp established by Japan in the Pacific, The Forgotten Camp, now restored and enshrined, today stands as a historical testament to Japan's violation of international conventions on humanitarianism and forced use of POW manpower and to the misery and suffering Allied prisoners endured, said Fan.

The prisoners were treated with relentless brutality. About 240 inmates died during their captivity, a death rate four times higher than most other POW camps.

"Many of them were transferred from the warmth of Southeast Asia. When they arrived in the freezing climate of Shenyang, they suffered from frostbite and diarrhea, and medical supplies were scarce," said Fan.

Aside from the harsh living conditions, beatings and hunger, the prisoners were also forced to work in a factory that manufactured weapons and parts for Japanese aircraft.

"Far from the battlefield though, they worked together with local Chinese laborers to fight against the Japanese by destroying the machines," said Fan.

Allied prisoners also made friends with Chinese co-workers who risked their lives to offer them food and medicine and even helped them escape, she said.

"This chapter of history is also the shared legacy of fighting together against the dark forces of fascism and the profound friendship forged between China and the US in sharing a life-or-death struggle," said Luo.

"The exhibition also sends the message that the friendship between the rescuers and the rescued, and the friendship of fighting shoulder-to-shoulder in that war, will never be forgotten," he said.

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