E’s sister introduced us to a TV drama series called “The Last Visa“, a Chinese-Czech production based on the true story of Chinese Consul General Ho Feng-Shan in Vienna during WWII.
Germany annexed Austria in 1938, and the Nazis began persecuting the Jews there. Many tried to escape, but cannot exit the country unless they have a visa issued by a foreign country. 32 countries including Canada met at the Evian Conference in France to discuss the plight of the Jews, but only the Dominican Republic offered to accept refugees.
Ho saw that this was not right and, acting against the orders of his superior (the Chinese ambassador to Berlin), started to issue visas to the Jews to go to Shanghai. At that time China itself was under attack and Shanghai was occupied by the Japanese, with a French Concession and International Settlement.
Visas were not needed to enter Shanghai then, but without a visa Jews cannot leave Austria. China’s Foreign Affairs Dept. wanted to maintain diplomatic relations with Germany, and along with the Nazis exerted tremendous pressure on Ho to cease and desist issuing visas. Ho refused on humanitarian grounds, and risking his life and career continued to issue several thousand visas to the Jews until he was ordered to return to China in 1940.
Each visa meant one life. Although some were killed before they could reach safety, nowadays many believe Ho saved about 5,000 Jews at the time. His heroics were not recognized during his lifetime, as he died in 1997. It wasn’t until 2000 that Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, awarded him the title “Righteous Among the Nations” and placed a plaque at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. Another plaque is located at the former Chinese visa office in Vienna, now turned into a hotel.
Some compared Ho to Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews by employing them in his factory. I don’t know about Ho’s beliefs, but he reminded me of Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives who saved the Jewish baby boys from Pharaoh:
• Ex 1:15-17 Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birth stool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.
The apostles did not obey evil orders either:
• Acts 5:27-29 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
What’s in it for Ho? Nothing! In fact to do what’s right might cost him his life and everything he has. The same is true of the midwives and the apostles. I pray that all of us would have the courage to do the right thing when the time comes.