Rabe's Records of "The Rape of Nanjing" Discovered

From: Ignatius Ding
Date: Thu, 26 Sep 1996 06:58:44 -0400

The report of a Nazi who saved thousands of Chinese lives during the infamous 1937- 1938 "Rape of Nanking" of World War II has been discovered, after decades of remaining a mystery to scholars.

The original 260-page report of Japanese atrocities -- recorded by German businessman John Rabe in the Chinese city of Nanking and submitted to Adolf Hitler -- has resurfaced this week. The report is further proof of the existence of the Nanking (or Nanjing) massacre, which some Japanese right-wing politicians, museum officials, and historians claim never occurred. Copies will be made available to the public through several archives.

The report emerged when author Iris Chang of Sunnyvale, California, investigated details of the "Rape of Nanking" for a book on the topic (Basic Books/HarperCollins, January 1998 publication date). After months of searching for John Rabe, she located Ursula Reinhardt, a granddaughter of Rabe's who kept his report, diaries and personal papers in her private family archives.

Reinhardt is now donating copies of the report to the Yale Divinity School Library in New Haven, CT, and to the Nanking Massacre Memorial Hall in the People's Republic of China.

Chang calls John Rabe the "Oskar Schindler of China" for his role in rescuing thousands of Chinese civilians from extermination by the Japanese during a reign of terror in Nanking, then the capital of China. From November 1937 to February 1938, John Rabe, leader of the local Nazi party in Nanking, served as the head of a war relief committee known as the International Committee of the Nanking Safety Zone.

Rabe, the son of a sea captain, was born in Hamburg, Germany, on November 23, 1982. After serving an apprenticeship with a merchant in Hamburg and working in Africa, Rabe went to China in 1908. In 1910, he worked for the Peking office of the Siemens China company. In November 1931, Rabe was transferred to the Nanking office, where he sold telephones and electrical equipment to the Chinese government.

In November 1937, when Japanese forces converged on Nanking, Rabe and a small group of Western missionaries, scholars, doctors and businessmen established a neutral zone in the city to assist Chinese refugees with food, clothing and shelter. Originally, members of the committee wanted the zone to be a temporary haven for refugees during the anticipated confusion between Chinese military retreat and Japanese entrance into the city.

But when the Japanese began an orgy of rape, arson and mass execution in Nanking, the missionaries decided to keep the zone open for months. For six to eight weeks beginning December 1937, the Japanese killed approximately 200,000 to 300,000 Chinese civilians in Nanking. They also raped 20,000 to 80,000 women and destroyed more than one third of the city. In desperation, some 100,000 refugees crammed into a zone that was only two square miles in size.

The safety zone administrators endured Japanese threats and even physical violence in their efforts to stop the massacre and rape. Night and day, they also worked to secure food for the Chinese refugees, to nurse wounded soldiers and civilians, and to document atrocities for the world media.

In February 1938, John Rabe returned to Germany to alert the Nazi government of the Japanese atrocities. He gave lectures on the subject in Berlin, showing audiences photographs, reports and an amateur film of the Japanese violence in Nanking. But after sending the information to Adolf Hitler, Rabe was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo. The Nazi government eventually returned the report to Rabe but confiscated the film. They also forbade him to lecture or write on the subject again.

Immediately after the war, Rabe was denounced for his past affiliation with the Nazi party. Although he was eventually exonerated of any wrongdoing, the trial depleted him of his health and savings. Food shortages in Germany caused Rabe to succumb to malnutrition and skin disease. He died of a stroke in 1950.

For more information, contact Iris Chang at irischang@aol.com.

Chang is also the author of THREAD OF THE SILKWORM (Basic Books, HarperCollins, 1995) and a winner of the Peace and International Cooperation writing award of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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