In a Nutshell
When Japanese troops flooded the city of Nanking, embarking on an orgy of rape, murder, and wholesale destruction, a local Nazi official risked his life to save thousands of civilians. His name: John Rabe.
The Whole Bushel
In the dark days leading up to WWII, the Japanese army embarked on a sustained campaign of violence against the Chinese residents of Nanking. For four months, troops ran amok. Women were raped with broken glass. Men were herded up and bayonetted to death, set on fire, or buried alive. People were hacked to death in the streets. It was an atrocity unparalleled in modern warfare—and only one man stood up to it.
At the time the city fell, the local branch of the Nazi party was run by John Rabe, a German businessman. Shocked by the actions of the Japanese, he worked with local missionaries to establish an “international zone”—an area free from the violence infecting the city. Up to 250,000 civilians were protected there, with Rabe turning his personal property into a refuge for another 650. But his bravest acts came at night. Patrolling the streets armed only with his party uniform and swastika, Rabe managed to face down dozens of armed Japanese single-handedly, saving countless lives.
By March 1937, 300,000 Chinese civilians were dead and Nanking was in ruins. Japanese troops went from house to house, shooting anything that moved. At one point, 200 were killed in less than 10 minutes. In one night alone, over 1,000 women were raped. Yet Rabe managed to save nearly all 250,000 in his international zone. Despite being an ardent Nazi, in the end it was his humanity that stood out. His tombstone now resides at the site of the massacre—a shrine to his time as the “other” Oskar Schindler.