Photos discovered by a Minnesota pawn shop owner previously believed to have been taken during the 1937 Nanjing Massacre have been debunked.
Evan Kail, the owner of St. Louis Park Gold & Silver who goes by “Pawn Man” online, posted a video to TikTok on Aug. 31 claiming to have discovered long-lost photographs taken during the massacre which lasted for six weeks and saw at least 200,000 Chinese civilians killed by the Imperial Japanese Army. Kail’s video went viral overnight, garnering over 30 million views and attracting international attention for what many believed was a major historical revelation.
In NextShark’s previous article on the photos, we pointed out that details regarding the album did not align with Kail’s claims that the images originated from Nanjing. Upon closer examination, the original owner of the album, Leslie Guy Allen, Jr., sailed on the U.S.S. Augusta during World War II. According to Naval History and Heritage Command, the Augusta was not in Nanjing at the time of the massacre; rather, it was in Shanghai on Dec. 12, nearly 300 kilometers away on the day before the massacre began.
Twitter users were also quick to notice that many of the images Kail shared from the album had previously been published online and were not taken in Nanjing or during WWII at all.
In a follow-up video that Kail posted to TikTok the next day, he claims that “one person came by today and looked at it and offered their opinion that it is real.” However, the person is never identified.
@pawn.man Update on my World War 2 photo book #worldwar2 #historytok #empireofjapan #pawnman ♬ original sound - Pawn Master Kail
In a now-deleted tweet, Kail also claimed, “I’ve had several prestigious people look at a small sample and tell me they think the photos are authentic. Once I have an in person opinion, I will post about it.”
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No other updates had been made regarding the photos until Kail posted a video to his YouTube channel on Sept. 15, where he details both the stress and support he allegedly experienced while dealing with the album.
“Because of these trolls, particularly this one assclown, nobody will go near this thing now,” Kail claims in the video update. “I can’t get anybody to f*cking check it out. Every person in Minnesota I had lined up who had some kind of credential ghosted me. They want nothing to do with this because of the controversy.”
In an article published by The New Yorker on Tuesday, it was revealed that the photos Kail believed originated from Nanjing — previously known as Nanking — were captioned “Nanking Road” in the album. Kail had mistaken Nanking Road, now Nanjing Road, for the city, when it actually refers to a street in Shanghai.
Timothy Brook, a professor specializing in Chinese history during the Japanese occupation, inspected photographs provided by Kail and determined that “as far as I can tell, none of these photographs are from Nanjing.”
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“The way the sailor has presented these pictures exoticizes Asia,” Brook elaborated. “He’s treating China and Japan as places of war and violence, and torture. Which is not to say that the photographs aren’t true, but they must be properly contextualized.”
“My mistake was to cry wolf,” Kail told The New Yorker. “I should have been more cautious.”
“Even if the whole book turns out to be fake, it started a productive conversation. I have accidentally educated so many people about this subject.”
As for the fate of the album, Kail wrote in an email to NextShark, “I am in the process of donating the book to China. I am waiting on the embassy to finalize the transfer with my lawyer.”
Featured image via TikTok