University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Eric Saul's Response

Response to the Article by Joan R. Deman "A Rebuttal to the Claims Made by the Organization 'Visas for Life.'"

I am the project director of the Visas for Life. The purpose of the Visas for Life project is to find, document and recognize diplomats who saved Jews and other refugees from Nazi persecution. Our program has traveled to seven countries and placed more than 100 exhibits honoring these diplomats. We are co-sponsored by a number of international, Jewish, civil rights and educational institutions. We are extremely careful in our research and documentation of the diplomats and their actions as rescuers. 

The story of diplomatic rescue is not a simple concept. It often involved diplomats who were willing to bend the rules of their governments. They often worked with Jewish organizations and relief agencies to issue all kinds of visas, documents and papers to rescue Jewish refugees. Unfortunately, these men have been overlooked by historians and their stories are just now coming out. 

For the last two years, we have done extensive research on the activities of the late Dr. Feng Shan Ho, who was the Chinese Consul General in Vienna from 1938 to 1940. 

Joan Deman's article shows a fundamental lack of understanding and knowledge of the lifesaving purpose of the visas issued by Dr. Ho and other diplomats. Our research on this topic shows that the Chinese visas to Shanghai authorized by Dr. Ho were not intended as entry visas for Shanghai, where a visa was unnecessary. The value of the Chinese visas to Shanghai was as proof of emigration, serving the function of an exit visa. Under the system set up by Eichmann and the Nazis, a visa with an end destination was required in order for Jews to leave Austria. Other countries, such as Italy, required such proof of an end destination to issue visas of transit. 

Some of the earlier visa recipients were told by the Chinese Consulate that a visa was not necessary to enter Shanghai, where the Chinese had no jurisdiction. Dr. Ho himself said that the Chinese visas were "to Shanghai in name only" as they were in fact a means to escape from Austria. He was working secretly with Jewish relief organizations to help save Austrian Jews and knew that the majority of visa recipients would not be going to Shanghai. Among the survivors we have documented are those who went to Palestine, Switzerland, the Philippines, England, Cuba and other destinations. 

There are those among the survivors who were imprisoned by the Nazis or deported to Dachau and were released on the strength of a Chinese visa used as proof of emigration. 

We believe that Dr. Ho was the only consular official who was willing to help Jewish refugees in Austria at that time. We have found five original Chinese visas to Shanghai issued to Jewish families. Their serial numbers indicate that the number of these documents issued had reached nearly 2,000 a month before Kristallnacht. We have just found additional documentation that more than 400 Jewish refugees with Chinese visas escaped to Palestine in the Spring of 1939 via the Aliyah Bet. 

Perhaps the following will help clarify the lifesaving purpose of these end destination visas. In testimony during the trial of Recha Sternbuch, a Swiss Jewish rescuer of Austrian and German Jews, her lawyer said: ". . .One should also point to the Palestine transport in the spring of 1939, in which Mrs. Sternbuch took active part. In this case, there were hundreds of passports that were equipped with Chinese visas, although the real goal was to land illegally on the coast of Palestine. These visas were used with the intention of fooling the countries where they passed through, because Italy, for instance, would never give a transit visa unless the final destination was indicated." 

While we understand Joan Deman stressing the importance of ship's tickets to Shanghai, we have found survivors who escaped from Austria on the strength of Chinese visas without ship's tickets. Our documentation shows that one family escaped from Austria to Genoa with Chinese visas but once there, had no money to buy ship's tickets. Others took overland routes. The value of the Chinese visas as a means of escape was not lost on those who came to the Chinese Consulate. We have testimonies of enormous lines in front of the Consulate. 

Dr. Ho's purpose in issuing the visas to Shanghai specifically was fivefold: 1) It allowed Jews to escape from Austria; 2) To release Jews arrested or deported to concentration camps 3) It "bypassed" the Chinese government, which was opposed to helping Jewish refugees but had no jurisdiction in Shanghai, and thus could not stop emigration there; 4) It provided proof of end destination to countries which would not issue transit visas without such proof and 5) if the refugees could not find safe haven elsewhere, they could go to Shanghai as a last resort during that brief window. 

Dr. Ho did not issue visas to other parts of China as there would have been no possibility of entry. At the time, the Chinese Nationalist government maintained very good diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany, despite the invasion of China by Japan. China was fighting on two fronts, the Communist revolutionaries and the Japanese occupation, and was dependent on Nazi Germany help. Chiang Kai-shek was a great admirer of the Nazis and used German military advisers and arms. He sent his second son to be schooled by the Nazi military and this son, before returning to China, participated in the invasion of Austria with the 98th Jaeger Regiment. 

Even after he was ordered to desist by his superiors, Dr. Ho continued his "liberal policy" of issuing these visas to any and all who asked. For this he was reprimanded and later discredited. Less than a year after Dr. Ho was appointed the Chinese Consul General, the Nazis confiscated the consulate building, saying that it was Jewish owned. When Dr. Ho asked his government for funds to relocate, the government refused, saying that China was war with Japan and no funds were available. Dr. Ho moved the consulate to smaller quarters and paid all the expenses out of his own pocket. We believe that this was among the attempts by the Chinese government to stop Dr. Ho's visa issuing activities in Vienna.

Similar examples of visas issued for purposes of escape exist in the well-documented case of the Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara and the Dutch Consul Jan Zwartendijk in Kovno (Kaunas) Lithuania in 1940. They issued several thousand visas to Polish Jews who were trapped in Soviet occupied Lithuania. Both consuls knew that their visas would only be a means of escape from Lithuania. The end visas were issued for the Dutch Caribbean possessions of Surinam and Curacao and Zwartendijk in fact called them "bogus" destination visas. Like Dr. Ho, Sugihara and Zwartendijk did so without government consent The Polish survivors wound up in Kobe, Japan. Many went to the US, Canada, Australia, Latin and South America. A small number went to Shanghai. This is analogous to Dr. Ho's efforts to supply visas in order to allow Austrian Jews to find their way out of the country to many destinations in 1938 and 1939.                    

The German refugees who went to Shanghai would not have obtained Chinese visas unless they went to Vienna. They most likely were helped by foreign diplomats in Germany such as British Consul Frank Foley, American Consul Stephen B. Vaughn and others who used similar means to help Jewish refugees to escape. 

Joan Deman is certainly entitled to her opinion, albeit uninformed. However, for her to question the testimony of other Austrian survivors is a disservice to historical fact. 

The history of diplomatic rescuers such as Dr. Ho is not revisionist history, but history that has been unknown until now. For too long, men like Dr. Ho have been lost to history. These men should be applauded for their compassion and willingness to risk their careers, their families and in some cases their lives to help the Jewish people. To diminish the importance of such men as Dr. Ho is to denigrate the personal sacrifice of these people who certainly deserve our thanks. We hope that survivors will gain a better understanding of the role of diplomats in aiding Jews evade the Nazis' murderous machine. 

In closing, I would like to use a quote from Austria survivors mentioned in the book "Hotel Bolivia" on the importance of visas in saving lives: 

"Visas! We began to live visas day and night. When we were awake, we are obsessed by visas. We talked about them all the time. Exit visas. Transit visas. Entrance visas. Where could we go? During the day, we tried to get the proper documents, approvals, stamps. At night, in bed, we tossed about and dreamed about long lines, officials, visas. Visas."

- From the Rickshaw Express website.

Biography of Eric Saul (PDF)