On Wednesday, nearly 70 survivors of Weishien Concentration Camp and their families gathered at its site in Weifang City of east China's Shandong Province to mark the 60th anniversary of the camp's liberation.
"I prayed to God that someday before I die I could come back to China, and here I am," 70-year-old David Birch said. "My heart is full."
The retired cinema doorman never imagined he could return to the former camp where he had lived as a child, and he never thought he would meet his old friends from the camp.
The site is now in the compound of a local middle school, with a hospital nearby. Most of the internees' dormitories have been torn down, and only a handful of Japanese officials' buildings remain.
It used to be a missionary compound named "The Courtyard of the Happy Way" before the Japanese army turned it into a camp where 2,008 men, women, and children were held between 1942 and 1945.
Most of the adult internees have since died, including R. Jaegher, former adviser of then KMT President Chiang Kai-shek, Eric Linddell, the 400-meter Champion in the 1924 Olympics, and Arthur Hummel, who was the US ambassador to China in 1980s.
All the returning survivors were children at the time, and many brought their families to share in their experience.
"I remember on August 17, 1945, the American flights came and rescued us," said Birch. "That was the most exciting day in my life. We were all dancing and singing, running out of the camp."
"I remember that day; we were all crazy," said 77-year-old Australian writer Joyce Bradbury. She was brought to tears when she saw the former camp building and the hundreds of middle school students lining up along the road, applauding for their return.
Joyce said she was nine when she was brought to the camp. They were crammed in small houses, given scarce food, and forced to do labor when they reached 14.
"One time a horse died and the Japanese guards let it decompose until worms grew on it and then fed us with its meat," she said.
But most of the internees said the guards treated them carefully, in contrast with how they treated the Chinese. No one knew exactly how many people died in the camp but the number was small, they said.
"I really cannot forgive them (the Japanese army)," said Bradbury.
Stephen Metcalf, a 78-year-old former internee who lived in Japan for decades after being released, said the Japanese government should face up to history and tell its younger generation the truth about the war.
He said the Japanese have made a mistake by trying to sweep the war under the carpet.
In a speech on behalf of the internees, Mary Previte, a member of New Jersey's General Assembly, said, "We who were interned are here to speak the story of our lives: War and hate and violence have never opened the way to peace."
(Xinhua News Agency August 18, 2005)