Support grows for Austria exhibition on envoy who saved Jews

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 12:00am

An exhibition on the life of a Chinese diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in Vienna during the Holocaust could be shown in Austria, diplomats said yesterday.

They were speaking at the opening of 'Visas for Life', photographs on the life of Ho Feng-shan, consul of the Republic of China in Vienna from 1938 to 1940. Ho issued thousands of visas to Jews, enabling them to escape Austria, in defiance of his ambassador and pressure from Germany's Nazis, who occupied Austria.

The pictures of Ho were shown for the first time in China from early this month in his home town of Yiyang, Hunan province, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth on September 1. Yesterday, they went on display at a museum dedicated to author Guo Moruo in Beijing.

Ho issued 500 visas a month for two years, continuing with his own money in a small apartment after the Nazis forced him out of his office.

'My brothers and sisters were caught between persecution and closed gates,' said Itzhak Shelef, Israel's Ambassador to China, at the opening ceremony. 'Ho was one of few diplomats who risked their careers to save Jews. Had he not given the visas, they would have died.'

One photograph showed a visa Ho gave on July 20, 1938, to Oskar Fiedler in an Austrian passport with a large red J, for Jew, enabling him and his family to escape to Shanghai.

Another picture showed Jews in Austria being forced to scrub the streets of Vienna. A third depicted a refugee ship named Parita carrying Jews, some using Ho's visas, to Palestine. In January, Ho was named 'Righteous Among the Nations' at a ceremony at the Vad Yashem memorial in Jerusalem, an honour given to more than 17,000 non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

He was the first Chinese national to receive the honour and the third ethnic Chinese. Two Ukrainians of Chinese origin received the title in the 1960s for sheltering Jewish families during the war.

Diplomats at the ceremony said the Austrian Government was looking into the possibility of holding the exhibition there.

'There would be no problem with this,' one said.

Born into a poor family in Yiyang, Ho lost his father when he was seven and was taken in by a Norwegian Lutheran mission, which gave him a devout Christian faith. He joined the foreign ministry in 1935, serving first in its embassy in Ankara.

After World War II, he served as ambassador in Egypt, Mexico, Bolivia and Colombia, finalling retiring in 1973 and going to live in San Francisco.

In an autobiography published in 1990, he included one line about his actions in Vienna. The truth only came out after his death in September 1997. 'When I saw the plight of Jews, it was natural to be sympathetic,' he wrote. 'From a humanitarian point of view, I ought to help them.'