The Nanjing Massacre and the “good Nazi”

This is a story I had read about earlier – how John Rabe, a German businessman and Nazi Party member, helped to save many thousands of Chinese lives as the Japanese plundered and brutalized Nanjing in 1937. Apparently there will soon be a film coming out about his act of incredible courage, which no doubt will elicit immediate comparisons with Oskar Schindler. This article gives a good rundown of who he was and what he did, and leaves us with a bit of hope at a time when tales of true heroism and selflessness seem fewer and farther between.

Tang Daoluan, the director of Nanjing University’s archive department, believes Rabe was essentially apolitical and only joined the party to get support for a German school he set up in Nanjing. For her, it was Rabe’s humanity that moved her most.

“He is only a businessman, not a priest or a humanitarian worker. What he did here – protecting citizens of another country without regard for his own safety – went far beyond his duty. He was a good man who understood human dignity,” said Tang.

…..Even at the time, his fame was such that 3 000 women from Jinling Women’s University knelt by the roadside and kowtowed in gratitude to Rabe when he was finally forced to leave the city early in 1938.

After returning to Berlin, Rabe gave lectures about the massacre and tried to get Hitler to intervene. He was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo for three days and told to shut up. He left for Afghanistan and then came back to Berlin to work for Siemens.

After the war, because of the implementation of de-Nazification, he lost his job and was kept alive by food parcels and money sent from grateful colleagues in China.

Schindler, Wallenberg, Rabe… I’m always in awe of “ordinary men” who transcend themselves and their situations, and wonder at the source of their goodness – especially people like Rabe and Schindler, ordinary businesspeople and opportunists who, when faced with a moral crisis, rise to the situation and become nothing less than saints. One of the great mysteries of us human beings, and one of the greatest sources of hope.

The Discussion: 13 Comments

don’t forget Dr. Ho Feng Shan:

July 30, 2006 @ 11:53 pm | Comment

Yes, I’ve read about him, too – add him to the list.

July 31, 2006 @ 12:33 am | Comment

Let’s not forget the glorious peasants who had the courage to become glorious military commanders in the great patriotic wars of national socialist liberation, Mao Zedong and Kim Il-Sung

July 31, 2006 @ 1:04 am | Comment

yes, plus GW Bush, the leader of great anti-terrorist war who fled the military service before he becomes the leader of great anti-terrorist war.

July 31, 2006 @ 1:30 am | Comment

Just a fan note: thanks for this item, and especially for bingfeng’s note on Dr Ho, whom I had never heard of.

And if you ever make that t-shirt, I really want one. (My name on another plane of existence represents not only a male duck but, through the wonders of homophones, an antique dragon. An Imperial duck, almost.)

July 31, 2006 @ 1:55 am | Comment

While Rabe was giving the Chinese safe haven from the Japs, the Japs were giving Jews safe haven from the Nazis in Shanghai, even resisting efforts from their Axis partners to round them up and eliminate them. A macabre, arbitrary world.

July 31, 2006 @ 3:10 am | Comment

It wouldn’t surprise me. The Italians, despite their membership in the Axis, were famous for resisting Nazi roundups of the Jews, while the French all too often cooperated with glee.

July 31, 2006 @ 3:12 am | Comment

Viktor Frankl (psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor) wrote a brief note about an SS officer who secretly supplied medicine to the prisoners at his own expense. When the camp was liberated by the Americans, the prisoners spoke in that SS man’s defense, and the American soldiers then solicited his help in cleaning up the camp and rehabilitating the former prisoners.

It’s a footnote in Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search For Meaning.” (Snarky warning to smug atheists: Don’t read it, too much transcendent spirituality is implied…. 🙂

July 31, 2006 @ 3:19 am | Comment

Man’s Search for Meaning can be appreciated by anyone, agnostic, atheist, polytheist, etc. It’s one of those miraculous little books that you never forget.

July 31, 2006 @ 3:47 am | Comment

There were lots of those little heroes….the Japanese naval attache in Berlin saved several jews by plying SS officers with stuff he obtained through diplomatic privileges and later tried to broker a peace that would end the war in the Pacific, but his own government shut him down.

One of the best Schindler stories isn’t in the movie, but in martin gilbert’s monumental book on the Holocaust. As I recall the tale, apparently Schindler was at a train station and saw some RR cars of Jews sitting on the tracks. He approached the stationmaster and haughtily asked to see the manifest, then did a “look out behind you bit!” and distracted the guy’s attention while he penciled in his own factory as the destination. The jews were routed there and thus saved.

July 31, 2006 @ 6:58 am | Comment

Rabe was part of a group of foreigners that included Americans (my wife’s great uncle, Lewis Smythe was the secretary of the “committee”) and British who potected thousands. Rabe was the leader, in part because he was the best communicator. The couple of foreign women that stayed in Nanjing may have been the most courageous. Rabe’s courage was different than Schinlder since he wasn’t face-to-face with the SS and his own people, but he was a “guest” in China. Individuals and small groups are so often more moral than large institutions!

July 31, 2006 @ 9:20 am | Comment

One wonders why the Chinese do not immortalize him like the Israelis did to Schindler. He deserves it.

July 31, 2006 @ 11:17 am | Comment

Is this the film project you’re talking about?

It would appear that Ted Leonsis has alterior motives other than telling a compelling story about a WWII hero. Seems he would like to use this project as an entree into the lucrative Chinese film / DVD market.

July 31, 2006 @ 2:38 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.