China Hails a Good Nazi and Makes Japan Take Notice
69 years ago his courtyard was filled with hundreds of Chinese seeking refuge from Japanese troops who were rampaging through the city, then China's capital. The invaders subjected Nanjing to a six-week reign of terror, killing large numbers of Chinese soldiers who had thrown down their weapons and murdering and raping thousands of civilians.
The property was the home of John Rabe, a Nazi Party member and employee of Siemens. In addition to sheltering people in his own compound, Mr. Rabe led a score of other foreigners in the city to form an international safety zone that shielded more than 200,000 Chinese from the Japanese.
Despite his heroism, Rabe was for decades all but forgotten here. Even the location of his house, today all but swallowed up by the sprawling campus of Nanjing University, was unknown.
But now, amid a political and intellectual cold war with Japan that revolves to a great extent around the history of China's conquest by its neighbor, this country is seizing on the memory of a man often called "the Good Nazi," and even China's Oskar Schindler.
Since the publication of Mr. Rabe's diary in 1997, his story has become a central theme in narratives of the Nanjing Massacre, much as the massacre story itself has become an important pillar in China's emerging new nationalism. In addition to the Rabe museum there is a new, minutely detailed 28-volume history of the massacre, and academics are rethinking the way the episode is taught in schools.
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