University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Assignment: Vienna

Hitler being greeted by crowds in the Heldenplatz (Heroes' Square) in Vienna, March 14, 1938. Dr. Ho was particularly repulsed by the fanatic reaction of Austrian women in greeting Hitler.

Dr. Feng Shan Ho was posted as First Secretary to the Chinese legation in Vienna in the spring of 1937  It was the year Japan invaded China. Ho was from Hunan, a province whose natives were known for their outspokenness, courage and hot tempers. The province was also famous for its warriors and revolutionaries, one of whom was Mao Zedong.

Both in temperament and background, Ho was better suited for the Foreign Service, away from the intrigues of internal Chinese politics. Like most of his generation, he was steeped in Confucian ethics. He also believed in JudeoChristian principles, and was strongly influenced by a Western education. He was fluent in both English and German. Ho had heard that Vienna was the cultural hub of Europe and was eager to be posted there.

The head of the Chinese legation in Vienna spoke French but no German. Because of Ho's mastery of German and his dynamic personality, he was active in local cultural and intellectual circles. He was in great demand as a speaker on Chinese culture and customs. He had a wideranging circle of friends in Vienna, especially among the intelligentsia, many of whom were Jewish.

At the time, Vienna had the third largest Jewish community in Europe, and ninetenths of Austrian Jews lived in the city. It was a cultural and intellectual hub, and although Jews made up less than 10 percent of its population, they were well represented in artistic and academic spheres. After years of assimilation, the Jews of Vienna seemed to be accepted into Austrian society. But this acceptance was only superficial as Austrian anti Semitism remained just below the surface, waiting to erupt.

Following the Anschluss in 1938, all foreign embassies and legations in Austria were closed. Ho got orders to dissolve the legation and set up a Consulate General. He now reported to the Chinese Embassy in Berlin. The Consulate General was located at 3 Beethoven Platz. In May 1938, Ho was appointed the Chinese Consul General in Vienna. The legation staff was reduced to Consul General Ho and one subordinate, a Vice Consul.

Ho vividly recalled a triumphant Hitler parading through the streets of Vienna. He was horrified by the fanatical welcome the Austrians extended. "They were shouting and extending their arms in the Nazi salute at mass rallies with banners waving. The women were especially zealous." Ho was invited to meet Adolf Hitler. "He was a short little man. He had a ridiculous mustache. He was an unspeakable martinet," Ho later recalled.

With the German takeover, Austrian antiSemitism erupted in full force. Jewishowned businesses were smashed and looted by the Nazis and the owners arrested Jewish homes and properties were confiscated.

Ho recalled: "At this time, the antiJewish campaign intensified. Many Jewish owned shops were ransacked by Nazis and their owners deported to concentration camps." Ho himself, along with other customers, had been held at gunpoint by roving bands of Nazis who stormed into Viennese cafes looking for Jews.

Feng Shan Ho was clearly a man with a conscience. The Jews of Austria were increasingly in danger, and they needed help. Ho knew that someone had to take responsibility.