Dora Rabe

Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders (ed.). Last Days of John Rabe (2/6/2023)
Thomas Rabe. Kurzbiografie von John Rabe. John Rabe Kommunikationszentrum e.V. (2/6/2023)

Last updated: 13/06/2023

Dora Rabe was born on 16 June 1884 in Hamburg as Dora Schubert, daughter of Emil Schubert and Anna Jasker. Emil Schubert was originally from Heidelberg but lived in Hamburg as a pharmacist. Dora and John had already been friends in Hamburg. In 1909, they married in Shanghai.

The Rabe family © John Rabe and International Safety Zone Memorial Hall

Dora and John had two children: Margarete (Gretel), born in December 1910, and Otto, born in May 1917. Of the Rabe family, only John was present in Nanjing during the events of 1937/38. Otto had already left China in 1931 to continue his school education in Germany. Later, he was part of the Wehrmacht that entered Austria in March 1938. As John notes in an addendum to his diary:

On 13 April [1938] we learned in Munich that Otto, whom we had not seen for seven years, has in the meantime marched into Austria as a soldier.

Margarete left China in 1937 together with her husband Wilhelm Schläger and their daughters Gudrun and Ursula (later Ursula Reinhardt).

Dora spent the summer of 1937 together with John in Beidaihe in the Japanese occupied province of Hebei, 1.000 km north of Nanjing. When John returned to Nanjing in September, Dora first remained there and later moved to Tianjin. She reunited with John in February 1938 in Shanghai and returned with him to Germany in April.

Dora and John Rabe in front of their house in Nanjing. © John Rabe and International Safety Zone Memorial Hall

John mentions Dora frequently in his diary and usually refers to her lovingly as “Mutti” (mummy). He also carried an emergency kit which contained his insulin vials and photographs of Dora and his grandchildren. Dora and John exchanged letters regularly, even when postal service was slowed down during the first weeks of the Japanese occupation of Nanjing in December 1937 and January 1938. John usually started his letters to Dora with “Meine liebe Dora” (my dear Dora) and ended them with “Grüsse und Küsse, Dein Johnny” (Greetings and kisses, yours Johnny).

After their arrival in Germany in April 1938, the Rabes lived in Berlin. Dora collected acorns and other food. The family suffered greatly from the shortage of food during the first weeks of the Soviet occupation of Berlin. In his Berlin diary, John mentions that Dora now weighed only 44 kg.

Also thanks to assistance of the residents of Nanjing and Christian Kröger who sent food to the Rabes, they survived the first years after the war. After John’s death in 1950, Dora remained in Berlin, where she passed away on 17 September 1965 at the age of 81. Their grave is located at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis graveyard in Berlin Charlottenburg.

Dora and John Rabe in Berlin in 1947. © M. Lengemann
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