Remembering the ‘Chinese Schindler’ — Who Saved Many More Lives
Ho Feng-Shan, “The Chinese Schindler,” was born in rural Hunan in 1901. Ho grew up poor. His mother was a devout Christian; his father, a Confucian scholar, died when he was seven. Helped by the Norwegian Lutheran Mission, Ho was educated at Yali College. Studying at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, he received his doctorate in political economy.
Ho then entered China’s diplomatic service. After being posted in Turkey, Ho was appointed First Secretary at the Chinese legation in Vienna in 1937. Following March 1938’s Anschluss, he was assigned the post of Consul-General. Fluent in German, he made friends with many Jewish intellectuals in Vienna.
In the wake of 1938’s Évian Conference — where only the Dominican Republic agreed to accept a significant number of Jewish refugees — Ho acted. Against the orders of his superiors, he started to issue visas to Shanghai to Austrian Jews for humanitarian reasons. He gave panicked Jews, fearing internment in concentration camps, visas with almost no questions asked. Eventually, tens of thousands of Jews fled Austria for Shanghai.
Some stayed in Shanghai for as long as 10 years, during and after the Japanese occupation, when they were segregated in Shanghai’s Hongkou District. Others left for eventual destinations ranging from Hong Kong and the Philippines, to Israel and the US. Ho continued his one-man crusade until he was ordered to return to China in 1940.
Eric Goldstaub, a 17-year-old Viennese Jew, was turned down by 50 consulates in Vienna before he went to the Chinese consulate, where on July 20, 1938, he obtained 20 Chinese visas for himself and his extended family. He died in Toronto at the ripe old age of 92.
Lilith Sylvia Doron met Ho while they both watched Hitler’s triumphant entry into Vienna in March 1938. When Doron’s brother, Karl, was arrested and sent to Dachau, he was released thanks to a visa issued on Ho’s instructions. Both she and her brother reached Palestine in 1939.
During World War II, Ho served on military and diplomatic missions to the Allied powers. After the Communist victory in 1949, he followed the Nationalist government to Taiwan. He served around the world as an ambassador until 1973. Ho retired to San Francisco, where he wrote his memoirs, My Forty Years as a Diplomat, explaining his motivations during World War II as follows: “Seeing the Jews so doomed, it was only natural to feel deep compassion, and from a humanitarian standpoint, to be impelled to help them.”
Enemies in Taipei impugned Ho’s diplomatic service. But in 2001, Yad Vashem recognized him as “Righteous Among the Nations” for being among the first diplomats to issue visas that saved Jews from the Holocaust,. In September 2015, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou commended Ho in a posthumous certificate of merit.
In the end, Ho saved many more Jews than Oskar Schindler.
Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, 2015).