You may have never heard of Dr. Feng Shan Ho. He came from a poor family in Hunan, served in the middling position of Chinese consul to Austria in the 1930s, and died relatively unknown over 10 years ago.
But many Jewish families that survived the horrors of World War II still remember him. While secretary at the Chinese consulate in Vienna, he helped thousands get out of Austria, through Shanghai and into safe harbor.
From a piece at the McGill Refugee Research Project:
For two years following the German annexation, Chinese Consul in Vienna Feng Shan Ho issued visas to any Jew who requested one. He knew that Chinese visas to Shanghai were actually used as means for people to get to the US, England and other destinations. Under Japanese occupation, Shanghai did not require a visa for entry, but a visa – as proof of destination – was necessary for Jews to leave Austria.
China’s position was not consistent in the issuing of visas to Jews. Consul General Ho’s immediate supervisor, Chen Jia, The Chinese ambassador in Berlin, was adamantly opposed to giving visas to Jews. He wanted good diplomatic relations with Germany and did not want to undermine Hitler’s anti-Semitic policy. Having learned that the Chinese Consul in Vienna was issuing a large numbers of visas to Jews, Chen Jia called Ho by telephone and ordered him to discontinue this practice. But Ho countered by saying that the Chinese foreign ministry’s orders were to maintain a liberal policy in this regard. This so angered the Ambassador that he sent his subordinate to Vienna on the pretext of investigating rumors that the Consul was selling visas.
The investigator arrived unannounced from Berlin and finding no evidence of wrongdoing, returned to Berlin. He was never heard from again. In December 1938, 7000 Jews crossed the border into Switzerland and Italy. Many of them were carrying Chinese visas.
Where: Rittmann Theater, Concordia International School Shanghai
999 Mingyue Road, Jinqiao, Pudong, Shanghai
Starts: Thursday, April 2, 7:30PM
It was only after his death that his efforts became public through the investigations of his daughter, Manli Ho. Manli Ho, who had only heard brief stories of his time in Europe while he was living, began combing through archives and interviewing survivors to bring people as full a story as she could piece together.
As she wrote for China Daily in 2007:
It has taken me 10 years of research and documentation to piece together the history of my father’s humanitarian efforts. During his lifetime, he neither sought nor received recognition for his deeds. In fact, he rarely spoke of his tenure as the Chinese Consul General in Vienna from 1938 to 1940. It was only by chance, after his death in 1997, that his helping thousands of Austrian Jews escape the Holocaust came to light. But, having to piece together this puzzle nearly 70 years later means that we may never know the full extent of my father’s humanitarian efforts.
Enjoy a rare chance to spend an evening with his daughter, Manli Ho, in the Rittman Theater in Jinqiao, Pudong, as she explains her journey to discover her father’s actions, motivations and work during World War II.