|China's Schindler:Dr.Fengshan Ho|
|by Dr. Mordecai Paldiel of Yad Vashem|
In 1953, the Knesset, Israel parliament, adopted the Yad Vashem Law, which called for the creation of a government sponsored memorial to the memory of the six million Jewish martyrs of the Holocaust during World War Two. In the law's preamble, the duties and goals of the Yad Vashem memorial, in Jerusalem, were spelled out. It included a provision for honoring non-Jews who helped Jews avoid arrest and death at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. Under this program, persons who either risked their life or, in the case of high functionaries, disobeyed orders from above and saved many Jews were to be attribute the title of "Righteous Among the Nations". Through this act, Yad Vashem and the State of Israel, acting on behalf of the Jewish people, wish to acquit themselves of the obligation of expressing a time-honored Jewish religious stricture, of expression thanks and appreciation to those among the nations of the world who uphold universal principles of morality and justice. In my 24years of work as head of the Righteous Among the Nations department, at Yad Vashem, I have processed thousands of cases of persons, of various nationalities, professions and walks of life, who at a crucial moment in their life decided to place the dictates of their conscience above all other considerations, and helped many Jews escape the Nazi dragnet, and thus survive. On such heroic person was the Chinese diplomat Feng Shan Ho.
Born in Yijang, Hunan province in 1901, into a poor family, after completing his elementary and college studies, Feng Shan Ho continued to Germany where he earned a PhD in Political Economics, in Munich. Returning to China in 1932, he entered his country's diplomatic service, and was eventually dispatched to the Chinese embassy in Vienna, Austria, where due to his mastery of the German language, he had a wide-ranging circle of friends, many of whom were Jewish. After the German takeover of Austria, in March 1938, the embassy was demoted to a consulate, and Ho was appointed his country's Consul-General in Vienna. It was the start of a new and eventual period in Ho's diplomatic career.
For Ho's appointment coincided with the severe persecution of Austria Jews by the newly-installed Nazi regime in a country annexed to Hilter's Germany. The 185,000 Jews, then living in Austria, were subjected to a reign of terror, unprecedented in its swiftness, including blatant and sadistic public humiliations, expropriation of property, imprisonment and forced emigration. For those in concentration camps, they were told that if they emigrated immediately, they would be released. However, to leave the country, the Nazis required the presentation of an entry visa to another country. Many wanted to head to the United States, but it had long filled its Austrian quota. As for Palestine-under pressure of the Arabs, Britain had severely reduced the quota for Jewish emigrants there. In Vienna, Jews besieged all foreign consulates day after day in a desperate search for visas. In contrast to other diplomats, Feng Shan Ho began issuing visas to China to all who requested it, even to persons who wished to travel elsewhere but needed to show an end-visa to be allowed to get out of Nazi Germany.
Such as in the case Norbert Lagstein, who thanks to Ho, the five younger members of the Lagstein family were able to leave Vienna in time, and were saved. As for the 19-year-old Hans Kraus, he tried desperately to pass the long line of persons waiting in front of the Chinese consulate. One day, as he lined up again, he saw the Chinese consul general's car about to enter the consulate, and the car's window was open, so he thrust his visas application paper through the window. He then got a telephone call to come and pick up his visa. Hans Kraus and his four family members left Vienna for Shanghai. Likewise for the four Hugo Seeman family members, who before the Nazi takeover owned a department store in Vienna. After obtaining visas to Shanghai, on October 12, 1938, they left on the Trans-Siberian railroad, which took them to Shanghai, by way of the Soviet Union.
Eric Goldstaub's father was another recipient of Ho's Shanghai visa. In his testimony to Yad Vashem, Eric wrote: " I spent days, weeks and months visiting one foreign consulate or embassy after the other trying to obtain a visa for me-my parents and our near relatives numbering some 20 people." Finally, on July 20, 1938, he received from Ho visas for all of his people. Then, during Kristallnacht, when the Nazis staged a pogrom against Jewish homes and business establishment, and burned down all their synagogues, Eric and his father were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Eric states: "The fact that we had a visa for China as well as ship tickets for the end of December [via Genoa, Italy] enabled us to be released within a few days and we were on our way by train to Italy and liberty in China."
During the infamous Kristallnacht, Karl Lang was also one of the many Austrian Jews hauled by the Gestapo to the Dachau concentration camp. His frantic wife Katerina started making the rounds of the consulates. In the words of their daughter, Marion: "Words got out that the Chinese consulate was issuing visas. [Mother] got a visa for my father with an end destination visa to Shanghai. I took our passports to the Gestapo headquarters to get them stamped. My father was in Dachau from November 1938 to February 1939. He was released and had to sign a paper that said he would leave Austria within 48 hours." Her father left the country in time, and was able to go to England, where he was later joined by his family. Bernard Grossfeld and his parents, in Vienna, were also granted visas by Feng Shan Ho for travel to Shanghai, thanks to which, his father, Morris, was released from Dachau comp. In July 1939, Bernard's family took a train from Vienna to Genoa, where they boarded a ship sailing to Shanghai. It was a two-month voyage. Another story takes us to Fritz Heiduschka who after his arrest in min-June 1938, his wife Margarete obtained a visa from Ho, for travel to Shanghai. At first both headed for Trieste, Italy, then together with their daughter Hedy, they boarded an Italian ship bound for Shanghai. When the boat stopped at Colombo, Ceylon (today as Sri Lanka), Margarete changed her mind, and decided to continue to the Philippines, where they remained through the Japanese occupation, and until the end of the war. Finally, we have the story of Lilith-Sylvia Doron, currently living in Israel. She related that she met Ho accidentally, as both watched Hitler's entry in Vienna, on March on 1938, which was accompanied with physical assaults against the city's Jews. In her words, "Ho who knew my family, accompanied me home. He claimed that thanks to his diplomatic status, they would not dare harm us as long as he remained in our home. He continue to visit our home on a permanent basis to protect us from the Nazis." When Lilith's brother Karl was arrested and taken to Dachau camp, he was released thanks to a visa by the Chinese consulate. Lilith and here brother left for Palestine in November 1939, on the strength of the Chinese visa that was, of course, meant for another destination-Shanghai. As for Leya Vardi's family, they used the Shanghai visa to leave and head north, to Sweden.
These are but a few stories that have come to light, of the many others who benefited from Ho's magnanimous help. Hopefully, this ceremony will encourage other beneficiaries to come forward and tell their story at the hands of this knight of the spirit. Be that as it may, these stories are sufficient to establish the man's credentials as a great humanitarian.
It is worth underlying that whereas a visa was not required for entry to Shanghai, which was under Japanese control at the time, a visa was an indispensable document for a Jew desperate to leave Nazi Germany. Thus, the visa to Shanghai were in truth "exit visa" for Jews to escape from Nazified Austria and to find their way to whatever destinations-China or other countries. As Ho himself admitted, the visas were "to Shanghai in name only". The noted Jewish rescue activist, Recha Sternbuch, working out of Switzerland, claimed that in 1939 at least 400 Jewish refugees used Chinese visas to make their way to Palestine, via Switzerland.
In the meantime, in Berlin, the Chinese ambassador was concerned that helping Jews would damage the good diplomatic relations then existing between China and Germany. In light of this, Ho's charitable behavior did not meet with the approval of his immediate superior in Berlin, who ordered him to desist. But Ho disregarded this, and continued to issue visas. This led to Ho being reprimanded, and a "demerit" was entered in his personal file. It is assumed that the "demerit" was linked to his insubordinate behavior on the issue of the visas. He reportedly had issued hundreds of visas; other estimates place the figure into several thousand, in spite of contrary instruction. Up till the start of the war, in September 1939, an estimated 18,000 Jews made their way to China, many of them thanks to the benevolent granting of visas by Feng Shan Ho.
In May 1940, Feng Shan Ho was removed from his post in VIenna, and left with his wife, and 11-year-old son, Monto. For a year, he spent time doing political analysis in the United States. As China eventually closed ranks with Allies, in the struggle against both Germany and Japan, Dr. Ho was recalled to China to lend a hand in the war effort against the Japanese.
After the war, Ho filled many diplomatic posts for his country, finally retiring in 1973, and residing in San Francisco, where he died in 1997, aged 96. It was only after his passing, through the efforts of his daughter, Manli Ho, that the story of his help to Jews was made public, through evidence submitted by some of his beneficiaries.
In 2000, Yad Vashem declared Feng-Shan Ho a Righteous Among the Nations. In a ceremony at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, attended by the ambassador of China in Israel, and many Israeli dignitaries, a medal and certificate of honor in his name was presented to his two children, Monto and Manli Ho, and his name was added on the honor wall, in the Garden of the Righteous.
Feng Shan Ho had written: "I thought it only natural to feel compassion and wanted to help. From a humane standpoint, that is the way it ought to be." today, on this solemn occasion, that his remains are laid to rest in his home town-on behalf of Yad Vashem, we also find it "natural" to recall the man's great humanitarian conduct at a time of immediate suffering to Jews under Nazi rule. It is also fitting and proper to use this occasion to express the Jewish people's thanks to the Chinese people for having opened its doors and welcomed the thousands of Jews already found a safe heaven in this country even many years before then, when during the upheavals of the civil war in Russia, in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, thousands of Jews fled for safety and were admitted in various Chinese cities. This, at a time when China herself was in the midst of a superhuman struggle to retain her sovereignty against attacks by foreign powers. The Jewish people will not the forget the fulfillment of the religious attribute of hachnasat orchim, of hospitality to strangers, displayed by the Chinese people during times of distress of Jewish people, and we thank you for this humanitarian conduct.May this event contribute to spur a greater cooperation between the People's Republic of China and the State of Israel, and between the Chinese and Jewish peoples-both of whose culture, religion and history antedate those of most other countries.