Teaching The Chinese About The Holocaust

by Rafael Medoff

Twenty Chinese educators who are taking part in a Yad Vashem seminar in Jerusalem this week may be surprised to learn about the little-known role of several Chinese citizens in the rescue of Jews from the Nazis.

One of these little-known Chinese rescuers was Pan-Jun-Shun, who moved to Russia in 1916 to find work. He was living in the city of Kharkov, in the Soviet Ukraine, when the Germans invaded the area in 1941. Pan saved a Jewish girl named Ludmilla Genrichovna from the Nazi round-ups by hiding her in his home. Pan was the first Chinese citizen to be named one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem.

A second Chinese rescuer was Dr. Feng Shan Ho, who served as China’s consul-general in Vienna from 1938 to 1940. He issued unauthorized visas to Jews trying to escape Nazi-controlled Austria, enabling them to reach the safety of Shanghai.

The least-known Chinese citizen who tried to help Jews during the Holocaust was Dr. Li Yu Ying, a prominent Chinese scholar and president of Soochow University. While living in the United States in the 1940s, he served as one of the co-chairmen of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe (better known as the Bergson Group), an activist movement that held rallies, lobbied in Washington, and sponsored hundreds of full-page newspaper advertisements promoting rescue of Jews from the Nazis.

In the summer of 1943 and again in the summer of 1944, Dr. Ying was one of the featured speakers at the committee’s Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe, two important events that brought together military, political, and diplomatic experts to publicly refute the Roosevelt administration’s claim that rescue was impossible.

Hopefully the Chinese educators visiting Israel this week will learn more about these three heroes and bring that information to Chinese schoolchildren.

And hopefully, there will be no political obstacles in their way. The problem for the Beijing government is that these Chinese heroes of the Holocaust were nationalists, not Communists like the current regime. They were associated with the anti-Communists who lost the Chinese civil war and fled to Taiwan in 1949. Dr. Ho, as consul-general in Vienna, represented the nationalist government of Chang Kai-Shek and later served as Taiwan’s ambassador to Egypt, Mexico, and other countries. Dr. Ying likewise served as a representative of the Chang Kai-Shek anti-Communist government in several capacities, including as a representative to League of Nations meetings.

When Dr. Ho was posthumously honored by Yad Vashem in 2001, and by Boys Town Jerusalem in 2004, the Communist Chinese ambassador attended the ceremony–and insisted that the ambassador from Taiwan be kept out. The Beijing government press gave prominent coverage to the honoring of Ho, whom it identified as “a Chinese diplomat,” erroneously implying that he was associated with the Beijing regime. Ho was, in fact, a Taiwanese diplomat.

Understandably, Beijing would like to “claim” the handful of Chinese citizens who helped save Jews during the Holocaust. It makes good pr; it might even stimulate tourism (by foreign Jews interested in seeing the old Shanghai ghetto area, where Jews aided by Ho settled). But history should not be subjected to such considerations. Chinese educators should be permitted to teach the Holocaust without any political limitations.

October 2010