In history there are always examples of individuals who have the courage to stand up to wrongdoings or acts of violence. It takes personal resolve to protest vocally, to write letters and to show with action that one is willing to go against the status quo. Former South African President and Anti-Apartheid activist Nelson Mandela, spent twenty seven years in prison because of his beliefs. Martin Luther King, Jr., was jailed, beaten, and had attack dogs released on him during the Civil Rights movement. The lone protester who stood defiantly in front of an army of approaching tanks in Tiananmen Square. Jailed dissidents in Poland, Russia, Myanmar, India -- the list goes on. These individuals have proven that they have the fortitude to fight the system, despite the overwhelming odds.
But what about a person, who theoretically, has no real vested interested in helping other people in grave danger? A person, who had a belief system that made him the person the least likely to help a particular group of people, but did so willingly, at the risk of his reputation and quite frankly, his own life? Because on paper, the very concept does not compute.
In my previous post I wrote about the Nanking Massacre or the Rape of Nanking. It began in December 1937 and spanned a number of weeks.The Nanking Massacre is a forgotten chapter in Chinese history and ranks as one of the most gruesome acts in modern warfare. It involved large scale genocide and rape by Japanese soldiers.When I was researching the "Rape of Nanking", I came across the name of a German businessman who lived in China. The man's name was John Rabe and he was the leader of the committee of the Safety Zone to save Chinese lives.
What was interesting about John Rabe's story was that he was also a leader of The Nazi Party.
The Nazi's believed that blond, blue eyed Aryan's were the superior race, and all other races were inherently flawed. Rabe is known as the "Schindler" of the Chinese. He was named after the German businessmen who saved 1,000 Polish Jews from death by employing them in a factory. Stephen Spielberg directed and co-produced Oskar Schindler's story in the critically acclaimed film, Schindler's List.
As a devout organizer of the Nazi Party in Nanking, John Rabe was employed at Siemens Chinese Company where he sold telephones, turbines and electric equipment. Rabe was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1882, according to an article from the New York Times. He worked for Siemens from 1908 to 1938.
An award winning movie based on the life of John Rabe.
John Rabe kept a 1200 page detailed diary, describing his harrowing experiences in Nanking. When the city was besieged by Japanese soldiers during the Second Sino-Japanese War, Rabe and a group of internationals decided to do something. They set up a demilitarized safety zone, and displayed international flags. This was to prevent aerial attacks. Rabe was the designated leader. The Safety zone provided medical assistance, food, shelter and clothing. He dug foxholes in his background to shelter Chinese and stopped Japanese soldiers from raping Chinese Women. Chinese slept anywhere they could, even sleeping in streets. Rabe sent a telegram to the Nazi Party leader, "Der Fuhrer", Adolph Hitler, to complain. Germany did not respond. The attacks on his city continued.
An entry in his diary reads:
"These escapades were quite dangerous The Japanese had pistols and bayonets and I--as I mentioned before--had only party symbols and my swatiska armband."
Yet Rabe maintained:
" Although, I feel tremendous sympathy for the suffering of China, I am still, above all, pro-German and I believe not only in the correctness of our political system but as an organizer of the party I am behind the system 100 percent."
Still, John Rabe even tried to prevent former Chinese soldiers from execution, but unfortunately calloused trigger fingers, blistered feet, and markings on shoulders ( from heavy Army bags) betrayed some 1,000 soldiers. The Japanese detected these telltale signs and killed them. The Safety Zone was located in the West of Nanking. The committee consisted of seven Americans, four Britons, one Dane and three Germans. It was in this area that some 250,000 Chinese lives were saved. But it was no easy task. John Rabe came up with the idea of providing whistles for the Chinese to blow if they were in danger. He would then rush to the scene to deter violence.
|Source: list 25.com|
A depiction of Rabe squaring off with Japanese soldiers
John Rabe effectively "exploited" the alliance that Japan had with the powerful Nazi Party. The Japanese would flee whenever he approached with his forceful presence. Although killings and rapes did occur in the safety zone, some 250,000 Chinese lives were saved.
John Rabe at one point was arrested by the Gestapo*, interrogated for three days, and ordered to keep silent on the subject. His life after World War II took a turn for the worse. He had to renounce his Nazi affiliations by the Allies in order to get a job. The stress contributed to health issues, which led to his death in 1950. Rabe died penniless. Copies of his diaries can be found at the Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut and the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in China. His former place of residence in Nanking, now called Nanjing, is considered a shrine.
Amazingly, John Rabe and a small group of internationals managed to save a quarter of a million Chinese. He was the least likely person due to his ideologies to provide asylum and refuge during wartime. Rabe defied conventions and the odds and proved to be a rather compelling humanitarian.
*Nazi secret police