cover image The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe

The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe

John Rabe. Alfred A. Knopf, $26 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40211-1

Considered the Oskar Schindler of China, Rabe was a German businessman who saved the lives of 250,000 Chinese during the infamous siege of Nanking. But Rabe was also a member of the Nazi party and a man whose motto was ""Right or wrong-my country."" This gaping paradox adds a fascinating complexity to his newly translated diaries, which primarily focus on the six-month Nanking siege in 1937 and 1938. When the Japanese air raids began over Nanking--where Rabe was regional director of the German industrial giant Siemens--Rabe's wife, along with most foreigners, evacuated the city. But Rabe stayed to protect his Chinese staff and co-workers; as he put it, ""I cannot bring myself for now to betray the trust these people have put in me."" As the magnitude of the Japanese assault became apparent, Rabe, along with American doctors and missionaries, created an International Committee whose purpose was to set up a Neutral Zone where Chinese civilians could take refuge. Six hundred of the poorest Chinese were soon living in Rabe's own house, symbolically protected by an enormous canvas painted with a swastika; thousands more took shelter in the arbitrary Neutral Zone that Rabe continually begged the Japanese to respect. Lacking food and medical supplies, Rabe was mobilized to continue his good works by the atrocities he witnessed; his descriptions of the sadistic rapes, torture and slaughter perpetrated by Japanese soldiers are chillingly vivid. Similar in some ways to Giorgio Perlasca, the Italian fascist businessman who helped save Budapest's Jews (Enrico Deaglio's The Banality of Goodness, Forecasts, June 1), Rabe was a complicated figure whose ultimate reasons were very matter-of-fact: ""You simply do what must be done."" (Nov.)