John Rabe started his famous Nanjing Diaries on 21 September 1937, approximately twelve weeks before Nanjing fell to the Japanese. However, the first document he included in the first volume of his diary is dated 6 August 1937. It is a letter he received from the “security committee” at the German Embassy in Nanjing requesting all German nationals in the city to provide emergency contact details. Rabe typed his response:
name: “Herr John H.D. Rabe”
address: “Siao Tao Yuen, Gan Ho Yien. NANKING 5.”
telephone number: “22814”
This request by the Embassy reveals an awareness of an approaching crisis. However, the Embassy did not yet recommend its nationals to leave the city, as it would do later.
On the same day, Minnie Vautrin noted in her diary different precautions taken by citizens of Nanjing:
“Several days ago orders were sent out to Nanking residents to paint all roofs black or gray. There are only a few red roofs left now. Although some of the official buildings have painted their red columns gray, we have not yet done anything about ours. Our campus is rather separated so we do not feel we are in much danger. We are also near the American Embassy which makes this region safer. The poor old Drum Tower looks sad in its coat of gray.”
(Source: Diary of Wilhelmina Vautrin, 1937-1940, Yale Divinity Library, Special Collections )
This map of Nanjing (1936) shows the locations of Rabe’s house, foreign embassies, Nanjing University, the Drum Tower, Vautrin’s Ginling Women’s College, and the International Committee for the Nanjing Safety Zone (founded in November 1937). The Nanjing Safety Zone is the area marked in orange.