What connection can there be between Manli Ho, a Chinese-American woman married to a land surveyor in Arrowsic, and the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis? Why last month did the state of Israel bring Ho and her brother, Dr. Monto Ho, to Jerusalem to formally honor them in partial recognition for their deceased father’s activities in Vienna 63 years ago?
The sequence of events that brought Manli Ho from Maine to Jerusalem begins in Vienna in l938. In that year her father, Feng Shan Ho, was a Chinese career diplomat serving in that city as consul general. Prior to his posting in Vienna he had had virtually zero contact with or knowledge of Jews.
In March 1938, however, when Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany, Consul Ho received a crash-course in anti-Semitism, as Austria’s 185,000 Jews were subjected to a reign of terror and intense pressure to leave the country. The Nazis were only too happy to see the Jews go, requiring only that the emigres have a legitimate entry visa and evidence of paid transportation to another country.
But where could these persecuted Jews go? Apart from the Dominican Republic, there was not a single country in the world, including the United States, that would open its doors to these hapless refugees. That stance of the international community was reaffirmed in a formal vote at the Evian Conference in France in April 1938.
According to Consul Ho’s son, who was 11 at the time, his father “sensed the plight and persecution of the Jews, and the immense joy of the Austrians at the German entry into their country.” Consul Ho began issuing hundreds, ultimately thousands, of Chinese entry visas to any Jew who applied.
Ironically, it was not the Germans who ordered Ho to stop his humanitarian rescue mission. They were only too happy to see Jews stripped of their assets and eased out of Germany. It was Ho’s superior, Chinese Ambassador to Berlin Chen Jie, who forbade Ho to issue visas on such a large scale. Eager to cement Chinese ties with Berlin, Chen was fearful of so public and so vast a rescue operation. Chen even sent an unannounced subordinate to Vienna to check up on Ho.
It is believed the demerit which was entered in Ho’s personnel file in l939 in the Chinese Foreign Ministry was linked to his insubordinate behavior toward his immediate superior on the issue of the visas. After a long diplomatic career, Ho retired in 1973. He died in 1997 at the age of 96 not knowing the specific fates of the people he helped rescue and certainly seeking no special honor for his activities.
How did Ho’s activities come to the attention of the state of Israel? His daughter Manli, who was born after the war, graduated Smith College, married and moved to Arrowsic, mentioned his heroism in an obituary notice. The information reached the State of Israel’s Holocaust Martryr’s and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, known in Hebrew as Yad Vashem. After an extensive investigation, on Oct. 24, 2000, Yad Vashem formally recognized Ho as a non-Jew considered “Righteous Among the Nations.” He is one of only two Chinese to be so honored. He joins the company of such well-known “Righteous Gentiles” as Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg.
On Jan. 23, in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, in a recognition ceremony carried on three Chinese television stations, Manli Ho and her brother held an emotional meeting with Frieda Rogel, a comrade of Israeli Kibbutz Degania A who was rescued by Ho’s father. “We were the lucky ones not to end up in a concentration camp,” Rogel observed. “We came to Shanghai and we were saved.” Manli Ho replied, praising “the genius of the Jewish people… They have pursued the perpetrators and honored the people who have helped.” Israeli Justice Yaacov Maltz, Chairman of Yad Vashem’s Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, comented that in the “black night” of the Holocaust “there were a few stars, and Feng Shan Ho was one of them.”
Pan Zhanlin, ambassador to the state of Israel from the People’s Republic of China, the successor regime to Republic of China which demoted Ho for his rescue activities, acknowledged that “this honor is coming late. Dr. Ho was silent for half a century. We are finally gathered to memorialize him, to remember his deeds and his legacy.”
Manli Ho has now returned to Maine. She, her husband and brother were especially touched by the eulogies by Ambassador Pan and others but feel that accolades or no accolades, Feng Shan Ho died content. According Dr. Monto Ho, his father “had no idea that he would be honored or rewarded for what he thought was simply the right thing to do. He was a person who stood up for righteousness.”
Manli adds: “He thought it was the natural thing to do when you see somebody in distress.”
Dr. Jonathan Goldstein is professor of East Asian history at the State University of West Georgia and a summer resident of Glenburn. This commentary was written while he was in Jerusalem doing research at Yad Vashem, the state of Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Authority.