In March, 1938, Austria was annexed by the Third Reich. Thus, one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe (about 185,000 people) was suddenly forced to leave the country. Most of them, 120,000, lived in Vienna.
About a month before the Nazi occupation, the first Austrian Jews were deported to the Dachau and Buchenwald camps.
Unexpectedly, the great hope for the Jews from Austria materialized in the figure of a Chinese diplomat called Feng-Shan Ho.
He was born on September 10, 1901, in the rural town of Yiyang, province of Hunan. His father died when he was seven years old. He was raised together with his three sisters in a missionary’s asylum for poor people.
In his middle age, he took advantage of the benefits of a western liberal arts education at the Yalein University. In 1932, he earned a PhD in political economics at the University of Munich, graduating Magna Cum Laude. Three years later he joined the foreign service.
Due to his excellent command of German he was posted to Austria in 1937 where he served as consul general Consul between 1938 and 1940.
Unlike other diplomats, Ho issued visas to Shanghai to all those who approached trying to escape the new terrorist regime, in spite of the prohibition of the Chinese ambassador to Berlin Chen Jia, who planned to strengthen the relations between his country and Germany. Ho answered that the Foreign Ministry had ordered to keep a liberal policy.
Chen Jia sent to Vienna an agent of the embassy to investigate Ho’s activities. He spread the rumor that Ho was selling the visas. The agent arrived unexpectedly but, as he did not find any evidence about the false accusation, he had to return to Berlin empty handed.
Although visas were not required for entrance to Shanghai, such a document was, as noted, a prerequisite for Jews wishing to leave Nazi Germany.
Many of the people assisted by Ho traveled to Shanghai by ship from Italy or by plane from the Soviet Union. Others used their visas to escape to the most diverse destinations such as Palestine, the Philippines, England, the United States and even Cuba.
Eric Goldstaub, who lives at present in Canada, tells how in July 1938 he received Chinese visas for his whole family alter he spent ”days, weeks and months visiting consulates and embassies in the attempt to get visas for his parents and close relatives, about 20 people.”
Lilith Sylvia Doron met Ho accidentally while they both watched Hitler’s entry to Vienna, on March 11, 1938.
”Ho, who knew my family, accompanied me home,” says Doron. ”He claimed that, thanks to his diplomatic status, the Nazis would not dare harm us as long as he remained in our home. Ho continued to visit our home on a permanent basis to protect us from the Nazis.”
When Doron’s brother, Karl, was arrested and taken to Dachau, he was released thanks to a visa issued by the Chinese consulate. Doron and her brother left Vienna in 1939 for Palestine.
Gerda Gottfried Kraus, based in Canada, relates that after Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938), her husband waited in a long line for admittance into the Chinese consulate. Seeing a car approaching the consulate’s gates, he thrust his application form through its window. ”Apparently, the consul-general received it, because [my husband] then got a call and received the visas.”
It is believed that the ”demerit” which was entered in Ho’s personal file, in 1939, at the Chinese Foreign Ministry was linked to his insubordinate behavior towards his immediate superior, the ambassador in Berlin, on the issue of the visas
In December 1938, 7,000 Jews crossed the border towards Italy and Switzerland. Most of them had Chinese Visas.
Only during the first three months as General Consul, Ho issued 1,200 visas. His daughter, Ho Manli, estimates that several thousands of Jews were rescued by his father.
By the end of his tenure in Vienna, Ho spent the rest of the Second World War involved in the fight against Japan. In 1949, with the communists in power, he joined the nationalistic side and continued working in Taiwan.
After an important diplomatic career, Ho retired in 1973 to San Francisco. Once he left his diplomatic position, the Chinese nationalist regime in Taiwan launched a campaign to discredit him. Later he was denied a pension for his forty years of diplomatic services.
”It was just natural to feel compassion for those persecuted and help them. It was what it had to be done”, declared Ho.
Feng-Shan Ho died in 1997 in the United States, at the age of 96 years.
* Baruch Tenembaum is Founder of The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation
Extract of the ”Saviors of Humanity” conference.