John Rabe: Tale of Hero, Known as Oskar Schindler of China

As a dramatic feature about a heroic figure, “John Rabe” leaves much to be desired: Despite fascinating material, most significant subject (genocide), the overly long film is rather shapeless, lacking the emotional impact that it could have had.

Nonetheless, it’s worth seeing the film, whose dramatic persona and historical events are still little known or little discussed in the Western world.

I’d like to point out that John Rabe, known in some circles as “Oskar Schindler of China,” for singlehandedly saving many residents, appears as one of the many figures in the superb documentary, “City f Life and Death” (see review).
Set in 1937, the tale centers on businessman John Rabe (well played by the great German actor Ulrich Tukur), who for nearly 30 years has been living with his wife Dora in the capital city of China, Nanking, where he heads the Siemens branch.
When the saga begins, it is difficult for him to hand over the reins of the branch office to his successor, Werner Fliess, and return to Berlin. He has learned to love the country, its customs and its people. Moreover, he knows that while he is an influential man in Nanking, relocating to the Siemens headquarters in Berlin would just turn him into one employee among many.
During a farewell ball in his honor, Nanking is bombed by Japanese airplanes following the Japanese army’s capture of Shanghai. As panic breaks out, Rabe decides to take risk and open the company gates as refuge to the families of his employees.
The next day, while the damage are being examined, the foreigners who have stayed in the city need to determine what to do in this new, highly dangerous situation. Opinions, of course, differ. The German Jewish diplomat, Dr. Georg Rosen, tells them about a safety zone for civilians, which was set up in Shanghai. Valerie Dupress, the director of the Girls’ College, thinks the idea is fantastic, and she nominates John Rabe as chair, because as a German he’s more or less an “ally” of the Japanese.
But her suggestion annoys Dr. Robert Wilson, senior physician of the local hospital, because he detests the “Nazi” Rabe. Actually, Rabe had wanted to leave for Germany the next day. But now he decides to stay, and immediately gets down to work.
While the Imperial Japanese Army unleashes a brutal attack on the civilian population, Rabe, in the manner of Oskar Schindler, skillfully negotiates with the Japanese and wrest a guarantee for a safety zone from them. Hundreds of thousands of people go into the zone, much more than anyone (including Rabe) had expected.
However, danger escalates when the Japanese continue to harass and attack the population, and it’s almost impossible to get supplies. When Rabe finds out that the Japanese plan to use an excuse to storm the zone, he realizes that he needs to come with a better, shrewder strategy, race against time.
End Note: Jon Rabe’s Career
The businessman John H. D. Rabe (born November 23, 1882, in Hamburg; died January 5, 1950, in Berlin) is one of the most famous Germans in China. For his humanitarian deeds in the Second Sino-Japanese War, the New York Times called him the “Oskar Schindler of China,” and the Chinese refer to him as a “living Buddha.” After studying business and then spending several years in Africa, John Rabe went to China in 1908. From 1911 to 1938, he worked there at Siemens China Co., a subsidiary of the German Siemens company. In 1931 he was named Siemens company manager in Nanking.