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Japanese Atrocity Scrutinized

Inside a large, non-descript house in suburban Shanghai, a group of Canadian teachers started their education yesterday.

The group have travelled around the world from schools in Canada's British Columbia and Ontario to discover a chapter of history familiar to people in Asia but virtually unknown to many in the west.

Yesterday afternoon, they stepped into a two-storey complex on Qiang Can Lu, a side street off the modern financial district of Pudong. The house was once used by Japanese troops as a comfort station, keeping Chinese women for their pleasure during the occupation of Shanghai towards the end of World War II.

Now, six decades after the Japanese left, the house serves as a stark reminder of one of the darkest chapters of world history.

And it was there that a group of 22 high school teachers and a handful of other volunteers from Canada began a journey to re-discover that history.

The group will spend four days in Shanghai, the first leg of a two-week trip that will take them to Yiwu, Nanjing (formerly Nanking) and Beijing. Along the way they will meet people who survived massacres and the germ warfare waged by Japan against China.

"I never knew there was biological warfare in China. I actually did not know until the interview for the trip. It's true what they say, it is a forgotten holocaust," said James Knihniski, a 33-year-old history teacher from Vancouver.

The trip is the second in as many years organized by a Canadian lobby and education group that aims to keep alive the history of the war in Asia, and the human rights abuses it led to. Ultimately, the Association for Learning and Preserving the History of World War II in Asia (ALPHA) hopes the teachers will learn and later teach the chapter left untold in Western history books.

The British Columbia chapter of ALPHA has been in existence since 1997, a year after founder and now president Thekla Lit discovered the history of the Nanking Massacre.

The Hong Kong-born Lit has since worked to build the organization. Its two goals are education (it has produced educational materials in co-operation with the Ministry of Education in Lit's home province) and seeking redress from the Japanese Government.

For the teachers, the trip may be a chance to begin discovering and writing a version of history they can then pass on to their students.

"I know that in a couple more years, all these people (survivors) are going to be gone," said Knihniski.

"It's never been acknowledged by Western history," said fellow teacher Doug Short, 44. "I think the main motivation is to go back and tell people what I saw."

(China Daily July 13, 2005)

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