The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang (5 stars)
Ms. Chang, a journalist and historian, researched this book extensively and uncovered a number of startling facts. One of the most fascinating are the actions of the German businessman and Nazi Party member, John Rabe, who led a small group of Westerners which established the Nanking Safety Zone in an area of the city where foreign embassies had been located. They had all evacuated with the Chinese government before the Japanese came too close and no diplomats were left in the city.
Rabe (pronounced RAH-bay), and the other Westerners helping him, carried out a giant bluff and the Japanese never called them on it. It took great courage to do this. Having come across references to his diary, Ms. Chang located Rabe’s grandaughter in Germany who had the diary and persuaded her to have it published. I haven’t read the diary. The New York Times reviewed the subsequent publication.
Although neither Rabe nor the other Westerners left in the city were diplomats themselves, they declared the entire neighborhood where most of the embassies had been located to be diplomatic property. Hence those Chinese who fled into the Zone were protected.
Rabe’s actions saved the lives of almost 250,000 Chinese. Because of a treaty between Nazi Germany and Japan which focused on containing Soviet expansion, Rabe’s Nazi Party badge and swastika armband gave him a large measure of status with the Japanese. He went out each day of the seven week atrocity, armed only with his Nazi Party badge, which he used to great effect in maintaining diplomatic protection for the Nanking Safety Zone. It’s hard to imagine but almost 250,000 thousand Chinese were guarded and their lives saved by a man armed only with his Nazi Party badge. Clearly Rabe had not gotten the memo that the Nazis were in favor of genocide.
From his diary:
‘These escapades were quite dangerous. ‘The Japanese had pistols and bayonets and I – as mentioned before – had only party symbols and my swastika armband.’
Upon his return to Germany some months later, Rabe carried with him documentary evidence of the massacre, gave lectures, and wrote a letter to Hitler about the matter asking Hitler to use his influence with the Japanese to stop their violence against the Chinese. Naturally he was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo.
Rabe’s employer, Siemens AG, was able to get him released and he worked for the company throughout the war. At the end of the conflict, he and his family were living in Berlin. They were close to starvation but survived because of small sums of money sent to them by the Nationalist Chinese Government in recognition of Rabe’s humanitarian achievement. John Rabe’s story is astounding, tragic, heroic, and hopeful. His life demonstrates that in the worst of times, men and women can be found who will risk their lives to save others. He is remembered in China and Nanking. He deserves to remembered in the West as well.
[Images courtesy of Wikipedia and The Nanking Massacre Project.]