Schindler of the East: John Rabe (Part 2)

Bodies of victims along Qinhuai River.

Upon seizing Nanjing, Japanese soldiers conducted mass killings and other atrocities as they ravaged the Chinese citizens during the Second Sino-Japanese War. (Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia)

This is a two-part story; please go here for Part 1

John Rabe, a German businessman known to the world for setting up a safe zone during the Second Sino-Japanese War in China and saving 250,000 Chinese people, made a wrong choice. As a result, he was forced to bear the weight of the crimes committed by the Nazi Party.

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After returning to Germany in February 1938, John Rabe made public speeches to expose the savage atrocities committed by the Japanese army. He submitted a report on the Nanking Massacre to Hitler, hoping that this could stop the atrocities. However, the report was never delivered to Hitler. Instead, it earned him some unwelcome attention.

The Gestapo arrested him within a few days of his report and took away the six diaries he wrote and the film about the atrocities. After the interrogation, the Gestapo let him go home, but the proviso was to “keep silent.”

After being released, Rabe could no longer hold leadership positions in his company. At the end of 1945, Germany and Japan surrendered successively. The Second World War ended, followed by the Nuremberg Trials.

Newspaper headline from 1945 announcing Japan's unconditional surrender and the end of World War 2.
At the end of 1945, Germany and Japan surrendered successively. (Image: Heather Mcardle via Dreamstime)

Hitler and his Nazi party were the original culprits who launched the war, which killed 20 million people. After the trial, the Nazi Party, the Gestapo, and the Schutzstaffel were judged as criminal organizations.

Any people who were members, whether they directly participated in the crime or not, were classified as part of the criminal group and were burdened with the crimes created by the Nazi Party during the war. Millions of its party members were sentenced to death, life imprisonment, and imprisonment for years for all blood debts.

John Rabe was in China during the Nazi’s criminal time; he never participated in the evils committed by the Nazi Party and also oversaw the humanitarian rescue of 250,000 Chinese people.

However, his mistake was that he failed to withdraw from the Nazi Party upon returning to Germany. As a member of the Party, he naturally became an object of investigation. Bearing the burden of the crimes committed by the Nazis in the war, he was arrested by the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom successively and was interrogated many times.

At this time, the Allied Forces carried out a complete liquidation of the Nazi Party. Anyone who had joined the Nazi Party had to revoke his public office or even a position in a private company. John Rabe also lost his job at Siemens.

Misfortunes never come alone. At the time, the Soviet Red Army occupied Berlin. The Red Army in Germany not only burned, killed, and looted wantonly but also enslaved many Germans to work for them. In this regard, the head of the Bavarian military government, George Patton, solemnly protested to the headquarters of the Allied Forces, demanding sanctions against the evil Soviet Red Army.

But Patton was ignored. In December 1945, the General died in a car accident. During this period, the elderly John Rabe was forced to work twelve hours a day, dismantling factory machinery and equipment for the Soviet Union in exchange for a bit of food on which to subsist.

John Rabe was among the people forced by the Russians to do slave labor when they occupied Berlin at the end of World War 2.
John Rabe was among the people forced by the Russians to do slave labor when they occupied Berlin at the end of World War 2. (Image: Yevgeny Khaldel via Wikimedia)

He took risks by picking up fallen potatoes from the roadside which had fallen from passing trucks. His family lived a life of abject poverty, the children living on bread and soup until that ran out, and they had to live on seeds gathered in the forest.

At the de-Nazification Screening Committee meeting in June 1946, German Ambassador Erwin Victor and several allies defended him. John Rabe successfully resigned from the Nazi Party.

Although he had been de-Natzified, the family still lived in poverty until the news of his family’s desperate living conditions reached China in 1948. The National Government (Nanking City) launched a fundraising campaign to purchase living supplies for them. After that, the John Rabe family received a large amount of food and supplies every month until China underwent the Chinese Communist Revolution. A social and political revolution in China followed, after which the communist regime took control in 1949.

On January 5, 1950, John Rabe died of a stroke in West Berlin aged 67 and was buried in the West Berlin Cemetery. On his tombstone, Chinese Tai Chi and Bagua were engraved along with his name below them.

John Rabe documented Japanese atrocities in Nanjing

Beginning in 1941, John Rabe compiled more than 2,000 pages of records in German about the Japanese atrocities in Nanking, along with films. His diaries, which were only made public in 1996, immediately caused a sensation in the world and became one of the most important and detailed historical materials of the Nanking Massacre.

The world called John Rabe “Schindler of the East” as a nod to the brave actions of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist and member of the Nazi Party who used his factories to employ 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust, saving them from death in the gas chambers.

John Rabe’s moral courage is aligned with others we know of who helped and saved the Chinese people during the Nanking Massacre. These include Robert Jacquinot de Besange, a French Jesuit whose model of safety zones, including Nanking, saved over half a million Chinese people.

Georg Rosen, a consular employee of the German Foreign Office, helped John Rabe establish the Nanking Safety Zone, and Minnie Vautrin, the American Christian missionary, cared for and protected at least 10,000 Chinese refugees during the Nanking Massacre.

Robert Wilson was an American surgeon primarily responsible for treating the victims in the Nanking Safety Zone, and John Magee was an American priest and missionary who took pictures and films to document the massacre. Finally, Bernhard Arp Sindberg, a Danish worker, saved thousands of Chinese people by hiding them in the factory where he worked.

Translated by Patty

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