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by Rhonda Spivak, June 1, 2012

The daughter of a Chinese man who saved thousands of Jews from Nazi persectution  was in Winnipeg May 24th to share his story of heroism and courage. Manli Ho's late father, Dr. Fengshan Ho, who was Chinese consul to Austria from 1938 to 1940 issued visas to Jews trying to enable them to leave Austria for Shanghai. Ho, whose German was excellent and who had Jewish friends understood that it was up to him to make a difference and help save Jewish lives, which he did singlehandeldly without the permission of the Chinese government and at great risk to himself.
Ho who came from a poor family in Hunan issued 18,000 such visas to exit Austria to Shanghai, where a passport was not required to enter. From 1938-1940, two local  Winnipeg families – the Gellerts and Schaffers – used transit visas issued by Dr. Ho to escape the Nazis to flee to Shanghai, China. Because of Fengshan’s efforts, word spread of Shanghai being a refuge in the 1930s for Jews trapped in Europe.
Ho's daughter, a writer who lives in the United States, was here being honoured by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, B'nai Brith Canada and the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre at a "One-Person Profound Difference" lunch downtown.
Below is  a short two and a half minute video of Manli Ho speaking about her father's inspiring heroism: 

Alan Yusim, B’nai Brith midwest region director,  said, “ Ho's sharing of her father's story reminds us how one person can make the whole difference in upholding human rights and values."

“We are delighted to have been involved in bringing Manli  here."
Ho, was relatively unknown when he died over 15 years ago in San Fancisco, but has since been written about in a piece at the McGill 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.

 After Ho's death, his  valiant efforts to save Jews were brought to light through the investigations of his daughter, Manli, who, during his lifetime,  had only heard brief snippits about his time in Nazi Europe. Manli began searching 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.
Ho's daughter is quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press as saying that her father had told her of one personal story, "that he rescued a Jewish friend on Kristallnacht and faced down the Gestapo at gunpoint to do that."

She included this story in Ho's obituary and a Jewish man read it and contacted her wanting to know more. She found a survivor, a ninety year old  Eric Goldstaub of Toronto who died recently.
Two Winnipeg women - Miriam (Gellert) Feierstein and Judith (Schaffer) Lavitt- whose families escaped to Shanghai were at a Millennium Library exhibit opening earlier this month, Winnipeg Shanghai Connection II. The exhibit was curated by Brandon University Professor Alison Marshall.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.