Pawn Shop Owner Says He Found 30 Unseen Photos of the Rape of Nanjing

Lost photographs depicting one of the 20th century's worst atrocities may have turned up in a Minnesota pawn shop this week.

Evan Kail, known as the "Pawn Man" online, owns the St. Louis Park Gold and Silver shop in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. When a customer brought him a book of photographs from World War II on Monday, he didn't rush to open it—war memorabilia is par for the course in his job, he told Newsweek.

What Kail found inside the album shook him so deeply that he took to the internet for help on Wednesday. His TikTok video has rapidly shot up to 10 million views.

"This is the most disturbing thing I have ever seen in my career," Kail said in the video.

The photos appeared to be taken by a member of the U.S. Navy who was stationed in China. Flipping through the book, Kail said that it started before World War II. Then the war started creeping into the images.

Rape of Nanjing Album
Here, the a book that appeared to contain unseen photographs from the Nanjing Massacre. Pawn shop owner Evan Kail said he had nightmares after looking at the supposed unseen photographs. Evan Kail

"Then I got to this page, and I cannot show you guys what's beyond this page," he said, pointing at a photo of what looked like a warship.

"When I got that book on Monday and I opened it up and I got beyond that page, I screamed," said Kail. "Somehow, that guy who took those photos was present for the Rape of Nanking. And he took about 30 photographs that are unknown to history, that are worse than anything I've seen on the internet."

The Rape of Nanjing (or Nanking), also called the Nanjing Massacre, unfolded after the Japanese Imperial Army seized the newly established capital of the Republic of China on December 13, 1937. Over six weeks, Japanese soldiers perpetrated numerous mass executions and mass rapes, while looting and burning the city and surrounding towns. More than a third of the city's buildings were destroyed.

Tens of thousands of young Chinese men were rounded up and herded to the outer parts of Nanjing, where they were gunned down, used for bayonet practice or soaked with gasoline and burned alive. Tens of thousands of women were raped, and some were also disemboweled. Though the numbers have been debated, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) estimates over 200,000 murders and at least 20,000 rapes.

Kail told Newsweek that he saw six pages of graphic photographs.

"People being executed, bodies...there's a lot of photos of bodies in the streets that have just been left to rot," he said. "I had nightmares for two nights."

The pawn shop owner shared a few of the photos on his Twitter account.

Since his video went viral, Kail has been bombarded with inquiries—including from the Nanjing Massacre memorial hall and the Chinese Embassy. For now, he is in the process of finding someone to help him authenticate the images. Then he plans to see if a museum will acquire it.

To this day, some Japanese nationalists deny that the Rape of Nanjing ever took place. In 2017, the Tokyo-based hotel chain APA (Always Pleasant Amenity) came under fire over books by its CEO Toshio Motoya, which contained denials of the atrocity.

After the hotel chain provided guests with Motoya's book, 200 expat Chinese protesters peacefully marched on the Tokyo building. They were met by nationalist counter-protesters who waved the Rising Sun imperial flag.

Updated 09/01/2022, 4:16 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with a verified video of the incident.