As the stories of the Holocaust have unveiled themselves over the years, unusual ‘bed-fellows’ have been discovered. Many unlikely people risked their lives to save those destined for death by the Nazi. They faced uncertainty to give others a chance for a future. Nothing stranger could be imagined in that the salvation of many Jews would come through a German-speaking Chinese man named Feng-Shan Ho. This one man would be the escape hatch for thousands of Jews seeking safety.
In 1937, Guiding Light premiered on radio. Charlie Chaplin talked for the first time in a movie. A female of Japanese descent became an American lawyer. Steel workers got a raise to make $5/day. Social Security paid for the first time. Gone With the Wind won a Pulitzer Prize. And a twelve foot calla lily bloomed to be the largest flower. While the world pondered these actions and watched in horror at the war in Spain and Stalin’s calculated purges, one man quietly worked to save lives nobody ever heard of.
Feng-Shan Ho was assigned as the Chinese consul-general in Vienna. He had graduated with a PhD from the University of Munich and developed an “excellent command of German” which made him an excellent choice for the Vienna posting. (1) His education and language ability were the keys to place him in the perfect place at the perfect time. He was unaware of what was to happen that would bring him to the edge of horror’s abyss.
As the world continued on, gradually the horrors of what was happening in Europe revealed themselves. The very next year in March 1938, Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany.Hitler dared something and gave the world pause. He was all talk, right? Or not.
There was an “intense pressure to leave the country” placed on all Jews. (2) The Nazis wanted to rid themselves of all that belonged to the Jewish race from their very presence to the articles they possessed in their homes. The first step was to have all Jews leave Nazi occupied territory. The problem was actually acquiring visas to leave the country. They weren’t as available as one might think.
Requirements to Leave Austria
Nazi requirements to leave the country were that “Jews [had to]have entry visas or boat tickets to another country” before they would be allowed to leave. (3) In other words, you couldn’t leave and arrive at a country without a written invitation from them. Typically, countries had limitations on the number of immigrants they would allow in based on country of origin. So many from one country was allowed per year and so many from another country. Most countries refused to increase their limits for the mass number of Jews who were seeking a place to escape despite pleas for entrance and even world meetings on the issue. China was one of those countries that refused.
China’s No Was Ignored
Many of Feng-Shan Ho’s “friends among the intelligentsia were Jewish” which was the basis for his sympathies for those being persecuted. (4) He saw their plight and wanted to help them escape the pain of living in their own homeland. But he had a problem doing that with his own native country.
China refused to give visas to Jews in an attempt to create good relations with the Nazi run Germany. Despite the Nazi’s wanting the Jews out, they were not disposed to be friendly to those wanting to harbor such “filth” as they saw the Jews. This stance was unacceptable to Ho despite being ordered to not give out visas. This was an order that Ho refused to follow. He “issued visas to Shanghai to all those who approached trying to escape the new terrorist regime” despite what his bosses ordered. Visas were issued to anyone who asked for them even if their destination was not for Shanghai. (5) He was going to get the Jews out no matter where it took them.
Escape for Thousands
Thousands of Jews escaped death due to the disobedient Chinese representative. Ho managed to stay in Germany despite his free handing of visas. His reputation in China suffered severely to the point of losing his pension and honor in China. Keeping his head up high, Ho retired in San Francisco where he remained till his death. (6)
Though directed to close the doors to those he saw only death for, one man risked losing everything he had been taught was of value in this life. A hero few know. A hero who we all should raise our glasses to.
(1) Baruch Tenembaum, “Feng-Shan Ho, Chinese savior,” The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, http://www.raoulwallenberg.net/saviors/others/feng-shan-ho-chinese-savior/ (accessed 2/4/2011).
(2) Yad Vashem, “Feng-Shan Ho,” Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/ho.html (accessed 2/4/2011).
(3) Yad Vashem, “Feng-Shan Ho –China,” The Righteous Among the Nations, http://www1.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/stories/ho.asp (accessed 2/4/2011).
(4) James Wong, “Dr. Feng Shan Ho: Diplomat and Rescuer of Jews,”The Raoul Wallenberg International Movement for Humanity, http://www.rwallenberg-int.org/Bulletin/Bul-2000/dr_Ho.htm (accessed 2/4/2011).
(5) Tenembaum (accessed 2/4/2011).
(6) Wong (accessed 2/4/2011).