Tag Archives: John Rabe

Starting his diary

On 7 September 1937 John Rabe returned to Nanjing from the beach resort Beidaihe (Peitaiho) in Eastern Hebei where he had spent most of August with his wife Dora. For safety reasons, he had left behind Dora in Beidaihe. She later moved to Tianjin and then Shanghai. In February 1938 John was reunited with Dora in Shanghai where he stopped on their way back home to Germany via Hong Kong. Rabe’s first diary entry is dated 21 September 1937. Rabe writes about his family, the situation in Nanjing, and his motivation to stay in the city – despite the frequent Japanese air raids and worsening conditions in the city. Continue reading Starting his diary

John Rabe’s birthday

Based on:  Hua-ling Hu and Lian-hong Zhang, The Undaunted Women of Nanking: The Wartime Diaries of Minnie Vautrin and Tsen Shui-fang. Carbondale, 2010
Thomas Rabe, John Rabe. Sein Leben, seine Zeit. Heidelberg 2009

John Detlef Heinrich Rabe was born on 23 November 1882 in the harbour area of Hamburg. His father, Marcus Rabe (1846-98), went to sea and later became a naval captain for the Hamburg South American Line. He died of cancer when John was just 15 years old. John’s mother, Anna (1849-1916), like Marcus, was originally from Uetersen, a city in Holstein, 30km northwest of Hamburg. In his biography, John Rabe writes that he owes his English first name to his great-uncle John George Rabe (1840-1913) who had emigrated to Australia in his teens. Continue reading John Rabe’s birthday

Rabe and the ‘History Wars’

Ever since their discovery, the Rabe Diaries have been politicized as part of the ‘history wars’ between China and Japan over the Nanjing Massacre. While some have claimed that Rabe’s accounts are ‘ironclad proof’ and represent ‘the truth’ about Nanjing, others have dismissed them as ‘full of lies’ or anti-Japanese propaganda. This essay explains the background to the politicization of the Rabe Diaries in the context of the Nanjing Massacre as the main site of the so-called ‘history wars’ between Japan and China. Continue reading Rabe and the ‘History Wars’

John Rabe’s Nanjing Diaries

Studying the perspective of the German businessman John Rabe (1882-1950), this project focuses on the events of winter 1937/38 in the Chinese capital city of Nanjing (Nanking) which led to its fall and occupation by the Japanese military. Originally from Hamburg, John Rabe had moved to China in 1908 and spent most of the following decades there as a representative of the Siemens company. When the Japanese military began its attacks on the city, Rabe decided to remain in Nanjing. Together with other foreigners, he formed the International Committee for the Nanjing Safety Zone and served as its chairman. In this position as ‘de facto mayor’ of Nanjing, he helped save thousands of Chinese from death of starvation, cold, or atrocities committed by the Japanese military (Nanjing Massacre).

During the critical period from September 1937 to February 1938, Rabe wrote a detailed diary comprising more than 1800 pages. The diary also includes related materials such as letters, photographs, and newspaper clippings. Its discovery in 1996 caused an international sensation and Rabe was called the ‘Oskar Schindler of China’. A small selection of this source was published in 1997 in German as well as in English, Japanese, and Chinese translations. For the first time, this project examines the two unabridged versions of John Rabe’s Nanjing Diaries (originally written in Nanjing in 1937/38, re-written in Berlin in 1942) and places them into the context of related sources, including other war diaries, memoirs, news reports, and diplomatic documents.

This blogs documents the research project and shares historical sources as well as research results with anyone interested in war diaries, Japanese-Chinese relations, and global aspects of the Second World War.