IIT-K campus served as an American airbase during World War II

An American soldier infront of the Hijli tower,which is now the IIT-Kharagpurcampus. Photo: Nehru Museum, IIT-Kharagpur.  

As the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur on Wednesday paid homage to the inmates of the infamous Hijli detention camp, who were killed in police firing on September 16, 1931, the discovery of a box of negatives in Illinois, U.S., shed more light on the history of the area.

Though it is well known that the IIT campus used to house the notorious Hijli prison where many freedom fighters, including women, were kept, many are not aware that it served as a base for the American Air Force during World War II.

Allan Teller and Jerry Zbrail, a couple from Evanston, Illinois, chanced upon a box containing 127 negatives of the photographs of the region taken around 1945.

Speaking to The Hindu from Illinois, Alan Teller, a teacher of anthropology and photography, said: “During World War II, the U.S. was planning an attack on Japan and set up bases in the Kharagpur and Hijli region. The American troops were stationed there between 1943 and 1945. The photographs we found were taken in 1945.”

According to Mr. Teller, the decision to open strategic bases in Hijli, Kalaikunda and Piardoba might have helped to shorten the war by six months.

Under their project ‘Following the Box,’ Mr. Teller and Ms. Zbrail visited most of the locations depicted in the photographs taken by American soldiers: temples, rivers and villages. “At the IIT-Kharagpur, we located a dark room and we believe that the photographs were developed here,” Mr. Teller said. The Hijli camp was the central point of activity for American troops. The photographs of American soldiers in front of the Hijli tower could be seen at Maxwell Airforce Base in Huntsville, U.S.

The couple will return to India in December to hold an exhibition of the photographs at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi in January.

The place where the Hijli camp stood is now the Nehru Museum of the IIT-Kharagpur. “The IIT-Kharagpur has grand plans for the Nehru Museum, and we hope the endeavour of Allan Teller and Jerry Zbrail will enrich the history of the place. We requested them to hold an exhibition of the photographs at the institute,” said Dhrubojyoti Sen, Professor of Civil Engineering and Faculty in charge of the Nehru Museum.

Though the couple have located the region depicted in the photographs, only half of the mystery has been solved because they are yet to find out who the photographer was.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 8:02:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/iitk-campus-served-as-an-american-airbase-during-world-war-ii/article7662639.ece

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