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Born in in Hamburg, Germany, Rabe first came to Shanghai in He began working for the Chinese branch of the Siemens Company in and 20 years later in transferred to Nanjing and served as director of the Siemens branch office with his wife and two children. In Rabe founded a German school in Nanjing and decided to locate the building on his property. While both of his children were past elementary school age, Rabe served as chairman of the school board and it was in this capacity that he first came in formal contact with the Nazi leadership of Germany and joined the NSDAP the Nazi Party.

Like several of the other foreigners who chose to remain in Nanjing and help, Rabe kept almost a daily journal of the events leading up to the Japanese occupation as well as the occupation itself. Like all the foreigners in Nanjing, Rabe faced many dilemmas: should he stay in the face of the eminent assault by the Japanese army or should he return to Germany? What policy should the Safety Zone Committee uphold in regard to Chinese soldiers that had deserted?

How could such a small number of foreigners administer to the many needs of Chinese refugees simply trying to survive? The detailed account of his daily life in Nanjing provides an invaluable window into the days leading up to the occupation of the city:. All the rich or better-off Chinese began some time ago to flee up the Yangtze to Hankow.

Many Americans and Germans have departed as well. I cannot bring myself for now to betray the trust these people have put in me. And it is touching to see how they believe in me. Under such circumstances, can I, may I, cut and run? Anyone who has ever sat in a dugout and held a trembling Chinese child in each hand through the long hours of an air raid can understand what I feel.

When I pay business calls on the Chinese agencies and ministries who are our customers, I am constantly asked questions about Germany, about our party and government, and my answer always is:. To be sure, as a National Socialist I was speaking only of German workers, not about the Chinese; but what would the Chinese think? Times are bitterly hard here in the country of my hosts, who have treated me well for three decades now.

The rich are fleeing, the poor must stay behind. Save a few at least? As air raids increased over Nanjing and more and more Chinese fled the city, the efforts to organize the Nanjing Safety Zone were solidified. On November 25, , approximately three weeks before the Imperial Army laid siege to the city, Rabe sent the following telegram to Adolf Hitler:. With German greetings from Rabe Siemens agent in Nanking stop 3. It is uncertain if Hitler ever received the telegram, but Rabe never received a reply.


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Nonetheless, Rabe hung the Nazi flag at his home, draped the Nazi flag on the hood of his car, and wore a swastika armband to confront Japanese soldiers at even the hint of misconduct. German businessman and Nazi party member John Rabe, leader of the Nanking Safety Zone committee, pictured with other committee members. They consistently accused the Safety Zone Committee of sheltering Chinese soldiers who had deserted the army.

Even though all Chinese refugees were notified that only Chinese civilians were permitted within the borders of the Safety Zone, and in fact the committee was unable to protect soldiers if they were discovered, it was almost impossible to ensure a foolproof method to bar their entrance. Rabe struggled with this dilemma a great deal, knowing that Chinese soldiers would still be treated as enemy combatants in Japanese eyes even if they gave up their weapons.

The streets of the Safety Zone are flooded with refugees loaded down with bundles.

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A hero's tale heads home

The old Communication Ministry arsenal is opened to refugees and in no time fills to the rafters. We cordon off two rooms because our weapons and ammunition are in them. Among the refugees are deserters, who hand over their uniforms and weapons. We cannot tell the Japanese, as was our intention, that the Zone is now free of all military. The sky to the south is all in flames. The two dugouts in the garden are now filled to the brim with refugees.

There are knocks at both gates to the property. Women and children plead to be let in. Several plucky fellows seeking shelter on my grounds climb over the garden wall behind the German School. A few very clever sorts spread their beds out under the large German flag we had stretched out in case of air raids. Once the Imperial Army arrived and unleashed the full force of their occupation, Chinese soldiers were shown no mercy.

The Japanese military used the possibility of Chinese soldiers hiding in the NSZ as an excuse to enter the premises again and again and search for supposed combatants. Rabe wrote:. Almost all the houses of the German military advisors have been looted by Japanese soldiers.