Ho Feng Shan: A man of com­pas­sion, courage

Next week, the Holo­caust Mu­seum of Hous­ton will honor Ho Feng Shan, the Chi­nese diplo­mat who saved thou­sands of Jews from the Holo­caust in Nazi-oc­cu­pied Europe. Yet while Ho Feng Shan was alive, no­body, not even his fam­ily, was aware of the scope of what

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

On April 21, an his­toric cer­e­mony took place in Vi­enna. A bronze plaque was un­veiled at the lux­u­ri­ous Ritz Carl­ton Ho­tel to com­mem­o­rate the hero­ism of a Chi­nese diplo­mat more than seven decades ago.

Ho Feng Shan, the Chi­nese con­sul gen­eral to Vi­enna from 1938 to 1940, was one of the first for­eign of­fi­cials to save Jews from the Holo­caust in Nazi-oc­cu­pied Europe. It was only af­ter his death in 1997 that the story of his hu­man­i­tar­ian feat – buried for six decades – fi­nally came to light. In July 2000, Is­rael be­stowed the ti­tle of Right­eous Among the Na­tions, one of its high­est hon­ors, on Ho Feng Shan “for his hu­man­i­tar­ian courage” in the res­cue of Jews.

Next week, on this side of the At­lantic, the Holo­caust Mu­seum of Hous­ton (HMH) will honor Ho Feng Shan with the Lyn­don John­son Moral Courage Award. The award will be ac­cepted by his daugh­ter, Ho Manli, on April 30.

“To rec­og­nize a Chi­nese per­son for con­tri­bu­tions in the Euro­pean Theater in this 70th an­niver­sary year of the end of World War II is his­toric, both in Vi­enna, where the res­cues of Jews took place, and in Amer­ica, where many of the sur­vivors found new lives af­ter the war,” said Ho Manli in a re­cent in­ter­view from San Fran­cisco.

The tri-lin­gual com­mem­o­ra­tive plaque in Ger­man, Chi­nese and English was placed at the site of the for­mer Chi­nese Con­sulate Gen­eral build­ing in Vi­enna, now part of the Ritz Carl­ton Ho­tel. It was from this lo­ca­tion, fol­low­ing the An­schluss, or union of Ger­many and Aus­tria in March 1938, that Ho Feng Shan be­gan is­su­ing visas to the Chi­nese port city of Shang­hai, help­ing thou­sands of Jews es­cape from the Nazis. Shang­hai im­pact

Ho’s im­pact, how­ever, ex­tended well be­yond Aus­tria and the re­cip­i­ents of his visas; his ac­tions put Shang­hai on the map and into the con­scious­ness of Jews in other Nazi oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries as a refuge of last re­sort.

As a re­sult, from 1938 to 1940, some 18,000 Euro­pean Jewish refugees fled to Shang­hai to es­cape cer­tain death at the hands of the Nazis.

That’s why Nancy Li, Hous­ton, chair of the US- China Peo­ples Friend­ship As­so­ci­a­tion and trustee of the HMH, be­came in­stru­men­tal in nom­i­nat­ing Ho as an hon­oree.

“When it comes to the his­tory of WWII, very lit­tle re­search has been con­ducted about China in the West. Through events like this, I hope to raise aware­ness that China suf­fered at the hands of the Ja­panese just as Jews suf­fered at the hands of the Nazis. More­over, even while China suf­fered un­der Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion, Chi­nese like Dr Ho were will­ing to ex­tend a help­ing hand to­ward the Jews in Europe,” said Li.

Mark Mu­casey, chair of the HMH, said the nom­i­na­tion of Ho stemmed from his visit to China in 2013 to at­tend the con­fer­ence of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Holo­caust Or­ga­ni­za­tions.

While there, Mu­casey vis­ited Unit 731 Mu­seum. “It showed the atroc­i­ties of the Nan­jing Massacre and chem­i­cal war­fare and med­i­cal ex­per­i­ments con­ducted by the Ja­panese,” he said.

“We turned a cor­ner and there it was, an oven where the bod­ies were burned. It looked ex­actly like the oven in Auschwitz, Poland, which I had just vis­ited. This was the same ap­pli­ance and the same cru­elty. This is what the Ger­mans were do­ing to the Jews and what the Ja­panese were do­ing to Chi­nese,” Mu­casey added.

Mu­casey and his group also vis­ited the Shang­hai Ghetto. “We saw where they (Jews) es­caped the rav­ages of Europe,” he said. “All th­ese were new to us, and based on what we learned, we de­cided to honor Ho, and reach out to our Asian neigh­bors.”

Yet while Ho Feng Shan was alive, no­body, not even his fam­ily, was aware of the scope of what he had done. Af­ter his death, his daugh­ter, Ho Manli, a jour­nal­ist by train­ing, be­gan an 18-year odyssey to un­cover the his­tory of her fa­ther’s deeds.

“I be­gan this search by chance, shortly af­ter my fa­ther’s death in 1997,” Ho Manli said. “But, by do­ing so more than six decades later means that we shall never know the full ex­tent of his hu­man­i­tar­ian ef­forts.”

Try­ing to re­trace the his­tory, she said, was “like look­ing for a pebble in the ocean.”

“There was no ‘Schindler’s List’ of sur­vivors. The sur­vivors had scat­tered all over the world. Most of the adults who lined up in front of the Chi­nese Con­sulate to ob­tain visas are no longer with us, and did not nec­es­sar­ily tell their chil­dren the de­tails of how the fam­ily es­caped,” Ho Manli said.

Af­ter the end of the World War II, China was plunged into a civil war. There were few Chi­nese archival doc­u­ments left to be found, she added. ‘Sheer per­sis­tence’

How­ever, Ho Manli painstak­ingly scoured ar­chives in Wash­ing­ton, Vi­enna and Is­rael, and doggedly looked for sur­vivors. Lit­tle by lit­tle, through what she termed “sheer per­sis­tence and serendip­ity”, she was able to fill in the his­tory piece by piece.

Posted to Vi­enna in 1937, Ho Feng Shan was ap­pointed China’s con­sul gen­eral in April 1938, one month af­ter the An­schluss, and wit­nessed the fierce anti-Semitism and per­se­cu­tion of Jews that fol­lowed the Nazi takeover.

Many Jews from Aus­tria and Ger­many tried to em­i­grate, but found al­most no coun­try will­ing to al­low them en­try. Their plight was fur­ther ex­ac­er­bated by the July 13, 1938, res­o­lu­tion of the Evian Con­fer­ence, which made it ev­i­dent that nearly none of the 32 par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions was will­ing to ac­cept Jewish refugees.

To force Jews to em­i­grate, the Nazis in­sti­tuted meth­ods com­bin­ing co­erced ex­pul­sion and eco­nomic ex­pro­pri­a­tion, Ho Manli said. Nazi au­thor­i­ties told Jews that if they showed proof of em­i­gra­tion – such as an en­try visa with an end des­ti­na­tion - they, as well as rel­a­tives de­ported to con­cen­tra­tion camps, would be al­lowed to leave.

In his mem­oir Forty Year of My Diplo­matic Life, Ho would later write: “Since the An­schluss, the per­se­cu­tion of Jews by Hitler’s ‘devils’ be­came in­creas­ingly fierce…I spared no ef­fort in us­ing any means pos­si­ble to help, thus sav­ing count­less Jews!”

How­ever, un­like his fel­low diplo­mats, Ho Manli said, her fa­ther faced a unique dilemma at the time: Most of his home coun­try and all its ports of en­try had been oc­cu­pied by the Ja­panese since 1937. Any doc­u­ment or en­try visa is­sued by a Chi­nese diplo­mat would cer­tainly not be rec­og­nized by the Ja­panese oc­cu­piers.

“In or­der to help Jewish refugees, my fa­ther came up with an in­ge­nious way to use an en­try visa as a means of exit or es­cape,’’ she ex­plained.

Ho’s en­try visas were is­sued to only one end des­ti­na­tion – the Chi­nese port city of Shang­hai, Ho Manli said. The Shang­hai visas would pro­vide Jewish refugees in Aus­tria with the proof of em­i­gra­tion re­quired by the Nazis to leave.

Prac­tic­ing what he called a “lib­eral pol­icy”, Ho au­tho­rized the is­su­ing of visas to any and all who asked. Armed with a Shang­hai end des­ti­na­tion visa, Jews could then ob­tain tran­sit visas to es­cape to other coun­tries.

“I knew that the visas were to Shang­hai ‘in name’ only,” Ho would later re­call. “In re­al­ity, they pro­vided a means for Aus­trian Jews to find a way to get to the United States, Eng­land or other pre­ferred des­ti­na­tions.”

Many Jews were also re­leased from the con­cen­tra­tion camps of Dachau and Buchen­wald on the strength of th­ese Shang­hai visas, Ho Manli said.

Shang­hai it­self, how­ever, re­quired no en­try pa­pers. In 1937, the city had fallen into the hands of the Ja­panese. The Chi­nese Na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ment had re­treated to Chongqing, leav­ing Shang­hai har­bor wide open, with­out pass­port con­trol or im­mi­gra­tion. As a re­sult, any­one could land with­out doc­u­ments, Ho Manli ex­plained.

“My fa­ther knew that and in mak­ing Shang­hai an end des­ti­na­tion, he would spread the word to Jews in other Nazi oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries that there was in China a refuge which re­quired no en­try pa­pers,” Ho Manli said.

“He wanted to pro­vide a fail­safe to refugees not able to land else­where,” she con­tin­ued. “That is why the ma­jor­ity of the 18,000 Jewish refugees who ended up in Shang­hai were from Ger­many, not Aus­tria. Most of the Aus­trian Jews who were able to ob­tain visas from my fa­ther’s con­sulate used them as a means to es­cape else­where – Cuba, the Philip­pines, Eng­land, North and South Amer­ica and Pales­tine.” First visa re­cip­i­ent

The first visa re­cip­i­ent Ho Manli tracked down was the late Eric Gold­staub of Toronto, who did go to Shang­hai.

Gold­staub told her he vis­ited 50 for­eign con­sulates in Vi­enna be­fore ob­tain­ing 20 visas at the Chi­nese Con­sulate. It was to a place, Gold­staub re­counted, most Aus­trian Jews had never dreamt of go­ing to, much less heard of. When the anti-Jewish progrom known as Kristall­nacht erupted in Ger­many and Aus­tria on Novem­ber 9-10, 1938, both Gold­staub and his fa­ther were ar­rested and im­pris­oned, but with the Shang­hai visas as proof of em­i­gra­tion, they were re­leased within days and em­barked on their jour­ney to Shang­hai.

“On Kristall­nacht, my fa­ther him­self faced down the Gestapo at gun­point to help his Jewish friends, the Rosen­bergs,“Ho Manli said. “He had pro­vided the Rosen­bergs with visas to Shang­hai and had come to their home to see them off. Be­cause of my fa­ther’s in­ter­ven­tion, Mr. Rosen­berg was re­leased from detention, and the fam­ily was able to leave Vi­enna safely for Shang­hai.”

Other fam­i­lies, such that of Karl Lang, did not have such per­sonal in­ter­ven­tion on Kristall­nacht. Lang’s daugh­ters, Mar­ion Alflen and Susie Margalit, later told Ho Manli that their fa­ther was ar­rested and de­ported to Dachau con­cen­tra­tion camp. He was only re­leased af­ter their mother was able to ob­tain a Shang­hai visa and present it to Nazi au­thor­i­ties as proof of em­i­gra­tion. The Lang fam­ily left Aus­tria for Eng­land and fi­nally made their way to the United States.

In the mean­time, Chen Jie, the Chi­nese am­bas­sador to Ber­lin and Ho’s di­rect su­pe­rior, was con­cerned that Ho’s is­su­ing of visas on such a large scale would dam­age Si­noGer­man re­la­tions. He or­dered Ho to de­sist, but Ho dis­obeyed the or­der and con­tin­ued to is­sue visas. Ho was later pun­ished for his dis­obe­di­ence with a de­merit in his record.

In early 1939, the Con­sulate build­ing – on which the plaque was placed in his honor last week – was con­fis­cated from Ho by the Nazis. He was forced to re­lo­cate to smaller quar­ters at his own ex­pense. He re­mained un­daunted through­out, Ho Manli said.

Ho Manli says that she is of­ten asked how many visas were is­sued and how many lives were saved un­der her fa­ther’s watch.

“Af­ter more than seven decades, there is no way of find­ing ex­act fig­ures,” she said. “Dur­ing his life­time, my fa­ther said very lit­tle about his hu­man­i­tar­ian ef­forts, and it was only af­ter his death that this long buried his­tory came to light.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ho Manli, the best that can be determined is that the visas num­bered in the thou­sands. Based on the high­est se­rial num­bers of visas that she has found, close to 4,000 were is­sued about a year af­ter the An­schluss. How many more were is­sued in the re­main­ing months be­fore the out­break of World War II on Septem­ber 1, 1939, when routes of es­cape be­gan to shut down, is hard to de­ter­mine, she added. Other doc­u­ments

The only sur­viv­ing Chi­nese doc­u­men­ta­tion that Ho Manli has found in­di­cates that the Chi­nese Con­sulate in Vi­enna is­sued an av­er­age of 500 visas a month to Jews in the nearly two years af­ter the An­schluss. There is also ev­i­dence that in ad­di­tion to visas, Ho is­sued other doc­u­ments to help Jews, she said.

“As to how many lives were saved, even my fa­ther him­self never knew,” Ho Manli said. “He was never re­united with any of those he had helped. Ac­tu­ally, the ma­jor­ity of them never knew his name.”

An­other ques­tion that Ho Manli is of­ten asked is: Why would a man from China save Jews in Europe when oth­ers would not?

“My im­me­di­ate an­swer is that if you knew my fa­ther, you would not need to ask,” Ho Manli said. “What he did was to­tally in char­ac­ter. He was a man of con­science and courage with a com­pas­sion­ate heart.”

Ho’s own ex­pla­na­tion for what he did was sim­ply this: “On see­ing the Jews so doomed, it was only nat­u­ral to feel deep com­pas­sion, and from a hu­man­i­tar­ian stand­point, to be im­pelled to help them.”

An­other rea­son that would have pro­pelled her fa­ther to ex­tend his hand to Jews, Ho Manli said, is that he came from a gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese who felt that China had been hu­mil­i­ated and per­se­cuted by 100 years of for­eign im­pe­ri­al­ism. In fight­ing Ja­panese ag­gres­sion, this gen­er­a­tion was determined not to al­low that hu­mil­i­a­tion to con­tinue. In that sense Ho Feng Shan was very sen­si­tive to per­se­cu­tion and to bul­ly­ing of any peo­ples, Ho Manli said. ‘Great­est feat’

Born into poverty in ru­ral China, Ho Feng Shan ob­tained his PhD from the Uni­ver­sity of Mu­nich in 1932, where he wit­nessed the rise of Adolf Hitler. He joined the Chi­nese For­eign Ser­vice in 1935 and served for nearly 40 years be­fore re­tir­ing to San Fran­cisco. Ten years af­ter his death in 1997, in ac­cor­dance with his wishes, he was buried in his beloved home­town of Yiyang in China’s Hu­nan prov­ince.

Ho Manli is writ­ing a book on the his­tory that she has un­cov­ered. “I would say this is my great­est feat as a jour­nal­ist,” she said. “I had to learn the his­tory and pol­i­tics of both China and Europe dur­ing that era. And I feel a re­spon­si­bil­ity not just to my fa­ther, but to the sur­vivors and to his­tory to record it ac­cu­rately.”

“When I be­gan this search nearly 18 years ago, I never imag­ined that it would keep un­fold­ing as it has,’’ she con­tin­ued. “As I waded deeper into th­ese un­known wa­ters, the story be­came panoramic and grew to en­com­pass the hith­erto un-chron­i­cled his­tory of es­cape from geno­cide in Europe, and how a sin­gu­lar ac­tion led to the cre­ation of a refuge on the other side of the world – in China.”

“What my fa­ther did in those two short years in Vi­enna has to be placed in a much larger con­text, which is the in­ter­play of Chi­nese and West­ern his­tory in the 20th Cen­tury,” Ho Manli said. “That is the task I have given my­self as I at­tempt to gather all of this into a book.” Con­tact the writer at mayzhou@ chinadailyusa.com


Ho Feng Shan

The com­mem­o­ra­tive bronze plaque


A pe­riod photo

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.