Commentary

Facing Down the Gestapo

By Eric Metaxas | October 16, 2015 | 5:12pm EDT
Nazi's marching through the streets of Cologne, March 8, 1936. (AP Photo)

You’ve probably heard about Europeans who rescued Jews from Hitler’s evil plans—people like Corrie ten Boom and Oskar Schindler. But how many of us know the story of Asians who risked their lives to save Jews?

One of these brave souls, Dr. Ho Feng Shan, was posthumously honored just a few weeks ago by the president of Taiwan for saving thousands of Jewish lives. He’s a tremendous example of Christian courage in the face of evil—and Dr. Ho’s story is the latest in the outstanding “Christians Who Changed Their World” series of articles by Dr. Glenn Sunshine at ColsonCenter.org,

Dr. Ho was born in the Hunan province of China in 1901. When Ho’s parents died, Norwegian Lutheran missionaries took him in and gave him an education at their school.

Ho proved a bright and hardworking student. He later attended Yale University’s extension college in China, then traveled to Germany to earn a doctorate in political economy in Munich.

Then came a career in China’s diplomatic corps. He was stationed in Vienna and became a popular speaker on the culture and customs of China among the city’s elites.

By now of course, Hitler was on the rise, and after he annexed Austria in 1938, “all foreign embassies were converted to consulates,” Glenn Sunshine writes. “Ho was appointed Consul General in Vienna, answering to the ambassador in Berlin.”

The Nazis began intense persecution of Austrian Jews, arresting many and sending them to concentration camps. Ho, watching this in horror, became convinced that he had to do something to help the Jews. He later wrote that he “secretly kept in close contact” with American religious groups that were attempting to rescue Jews.

One tool Ho had at his disposal was his ability to issue visas. At that time the Nazis allowed Jews to leave Austria if another country were willing to accept them. But tragically, most countries, fearing the wrath of German leaders, refused to do so. China, however, allowed Ho to issue visas to those wishing to travel to Shanghai. As Glenn Sunshine explains, “the real purpose of these visas was not so much to allow Jews into Shanghai, but to get them out of Austria.”

Word spread through Vienna’s large Jewish community that China’s consulate would give them visas. Ho feverishly issued visa after visa, often for large families.

Doing this life-saving work was not without risk. Once, Ho “faced down an armed Gestapo officer to protect a Jewish family,” Sunshine writes. And he enraged the Chinese ambassador to Berlin—Ho’s boss—when he refused his order to stop issuing visas to Jews. Ho worried that his actions would so irritate the Nazis that, his diplomatic status notwithstanding, they might decide to teach him a deadly lesson.

By the time Ho was recalled to China in May of 1940, he had issued more than 4,000 visas. Many years later, Ho and his family moved to San Francisco, where Ho spent his remaining years working on behalf of his church and community, and writing his memoirs.

Whenever someone risks his life, his career, or his safety for others, it’s natural to ask, “Why? Why did he do it when so many others would not?” Dr. Ho’s answer was, “I thought it only natural to feel compassion and to want to help. From the standpoint of humanity, that is the way it should be.”

Ho’s pastor, the Rev. Charles Kuo, elaborates on this modest answer. Ho “knew he had received many gifts from God. He felt that they were not given to him solely for his own benefit, but to do for others, for his fellow man.”

I am so pleased that Glenn Sunshine is introducing American Christians to lesser-known heroes of the faith, like Dr. Ho. For more on Dr. Ho and other Christians who changed their world, come to ColsonCenter.org.

Eric Metaxas is the bestselling author of “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy.” He is the radio host of “The Eric Metaxas Show” and the co-host of “BreakPoint.”

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.

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