Heroism and Compassion: John Rabe


Heroes in real life rarely look like the all-mighty supermen or superwomen from books and movies. They might speak different languages, live in different parts of the world, wear different clothes, belong to different generations.  What is common between all heroes is their belief, that with their microscopic efforts and stubborn persistence they can make this world a better place; their devotion to something bigger than them.

On my blog I like collecting stories of compassions featuring real heroes. My collection includes a few stories from the World War 2, such as:

However heroism and compassion are not confined to wars, as demonstrated by numerous examples from all over the world, including the following:

Over the Christmas holidays I was reading diaries of John Rabe (November 23, 1882 – January 5, 1950) – a German businessman who is best known for his efforts to stop the atrocities of the Japanese army during the Nanking Occupation and his work to protect and help the Chinese civilians during the event. Truly amazing man whose brave actions touched my heart.

220px-JohnRabeFrom Wikipedia

According to Erwin Wickert, the editor of John Rabe’s diaries, “John Rabe was a simple man who wanted to be no more than an honest Hamburg businessman. He was always ready to help, was well-liked, showed good common sense, and maintained a sense of humor even in difficult situations, especially then… He earned people’s highest admiration for the way that his love of his neighbor, of his Chinese fellow men in their plight, grew and ourgrew itself, for the way he not only rescued them as a Good Samaritan, but also displayed political savvy, a talent for organisation and diplomacy, and unflagging stamina in their cause. Working closely with American friends and often at the risk of his life, he built a Safety Zone in Nanking that prevented a massacre and offered relative security to 250,000 Chinese during the Japanese occupation… He was highly praised by his friends, revered as a saint by the Chinese, respected by the Japanese, whose acts of misconduct he constantly resisted. And yet he remained the same modest man he had been before, who nevertheless could lose all his gentle humility when he saw wrong being committed.”

It is impossible to fully comprehend the significance of Rabe’s heroic actions without knowing all the atrocities committed by Japanese during Nanking Massacre, that killed hundreds of thousands of people. An accurate estimation of the death toll in the massacre has not been achieved because most of the Japanese military records on the killings were deliberately destroyed or kept secret shortly after the surrender of Japan in 1945. That makes Rabe’s diaries particularly important.

In his diaries Rabe documented Japanese atrocities committed during the assault upon and occupation of the city. Nanking was a true hell on earth at that time. Below are just a few examples of what John Rabe saw with his own eyes in Nanking over those weeks:

“The Japanese March in: the atrocities begin… We saw how the Japanese had tied up some thousand Chinese out in an open field… They were forced to kneel and were then shot in the back of the head.”

“Dr. Wilson used the opportunity to show me a few of his patients [at Kulou Hospital]… Among them, a civilian with his eyes burned out and his head totally burned, who had gasoline poured over him by Japanese soldiers. The body of a little boy, may be seven years old, had four bayonet wounds in it, one in the belly about as long as your finger… I have had to look at so many corpses over the last few weeks that I can keep my nerves in check even when viewing these horrible cases… I wanted to see these atrocities with my own eyes, so that I can speak as an eyewitness later. A man cannot be silent about this kind of cruelty!”

ChildChild killed in the massacre

“As we learned from on of the survivors, they were taken to a vacant house, robbed of all valuables and clothes, and when completely naked, tied up together in groups of five. Then the Japanese built a large bonfire in the courtyard, led the groups out one by one, bayoneted the men and tossed them still alive on the fire…”

“At the American Mission Hospital women are constantly being admitted… who have suffered grave bodily harm from rape committed by packs of men, with the subsequent infliction of bayonet and other wounds. One women had her throat slit half-open… Many abused girls still in their childhood have likewise been admitted to the hospital… On 12 January, my English colleague, Consul Prideaux-Brune… visited the house of Mr. Parsons of the British-American Tobacco Company and discovered there the body of a Chinese woman into whose vagina an entire golf club had been forced.”

NankingRape victims. Nanking.

“While we were aboard the British gunboat Bee… the Japanese rear-admiral Kondo declared to Holt, the British admiral, that on a large island downstream from Nanking there were still 30,000 Chinese soldiers who would have to be removed. This removal or “mopping up”, as it was called in Japanese communiques, consists of murdering what are now defenseless enemies and is contrary to fundamental principles of humane warfare. Besides mass executions by machine gun fire, other more individual methods of killing were employed as well, such as pouring gasoline over a victim and setting him afire…”

Nanking_bodies_1937Massacre victims

Humane warfare? Is there such a thing?
What can be humane in a warfare?


12 thoughts on “Heroism and Compassion: John Rabe

  1. kindadukish says:

    All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

  2. The story you tell tonight is terrible in so many ways. The last two days here there have been reports on the news from the Royal Commission into abuse by the clergy in Australia. These reports have centred on the Salvation Army and I have been so shocked and disgusted by what went on in one of the boys homes they ran. Humans are capable of the most horrific crimes against each other. As for heroes you are right they look just like you and me, often their heroism occurs in a small corner of the globe and goes unnoticed by most people. Heroes exist as ordinary people being and doing good for others. excellent post O, well done. Just think in your house you are your kids hero!!

    • Otrazhenie says:

      I’ve seen those reports and feel so disgusted with the abusers, who are praying on vulnerable children. In his book ‘Rebel with a cause’ Ray Avery described abuse that took place in the orphanage he lived in. What disgusted me the most was not just the actions of the abusers, but that lack of actions on behalf of other adults, who knowingly did nothing to stop that abuse. I posted this story on my blog at https://otrazhenie.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/a-person-may-cause-evil-to-others/

      I think it is every parent’s dream to be their children’s hero. I am sure, you are a real hero for your children and grandchildren. 🙂

  3. Mélanie says:

    impossible for me to click on the “like” button, Miss O… too sad, emotional, unfair, cruel, unworthy of the human race… 😦 you surely know the Latin saying:”homo homini lupus!” = man is a wolf for men…
    * * *
    I haven’t “seen” you at my crossroads for quite a while… do hope you’ve been fine and healthy these past weeks… my very best, take care and have a serene day/night… friendly thoughts, Mélanie

    • Otrazhenie says:

      So true – unfortunately, man is even more dangerous than a wolf for other men. As Steven Spielberg once said, “Humans are the only hunters who kill when not hungry.” 😦

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Hm, I have not seen your posts in my reader for a while, even though I’m following you. Just went to your blog and discovered lots of posts which never appeared in my reader. Very weird. I’ll try unfollowing you and then following you again to get that ‘fixed’.

  4. […] Heroism and Compassion: John Rabe […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s