University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Visas to China

Jewish refugees arriving in Shanghai.

Less than a month after the annexation, the first Austrian Jews were deported to Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps. They were told that if they emigrated immediately, they would be released.

Many Jews wanted to go to the United States, but even though the us had not filled its Austrian quota, it imposed stringent emigration restrictions. Those who wished to go to Palestine found that Britain, under Arab pressure, had severely reduced the quota for Jewish emigrants.

The plight of Austrian Jews was further exacerbated by the July 13 resolution of the Evian Conference, which made it evident that none of the 32 participating states was willing to open its doors to Jewish refugees.

Vienna became the center for emigration of Austrian Jews. All foreign consulates in the city were besieged by desperate Jews day after day, but most did not offer help. The British consulate posted a sign saying no visas would be issued; the French would not accept any visa applications. The Swiss demanded that passports of Jews be stamped with a red "J" in order to bar them from crossing the border.

Ho recalled: "Since the annexation of Austria by Germany, the persecution of the Jews by Hitler's 'devils' became increasingly fierce. There were American religious and charitable organizations which were urgently trying to save the Jews. I secretly kept in close contact with these organizations. I spared no effort in using any means possible. Innumerable Jews were thus saved."

A Chinese visa to Shanghai, China used by Austrian Jews to escape from Nazi-occupied Austria.

The 'means' Consul General Ho used to help Jewish refugees was to issue them visas to Shanghai, China. He practiced a "liberal" visa policy, authorizing the issuing of visas to any and all who asked. Having been turned down by other consulates, Jews soon discovered that they could get visas at the Chinese Consulate.

Shanghai was under Japanese occupation and a visa was not required for entry. But a visa, as proof of destination, was necessary for Jews to be allowed to leave Austria.

Eric Goldstaub, a 17yearold Viennese Jew, was turned down by 50 consulates in Vienna before he went to the Chinese Consulate, where on July 20, 1938, he obtained 20 Chinese visas for himself and his extended family. On the strength of these visas, the family procured boat tickets to Shanghai. Before their departure, both Goldstaub and his father were arrested and imprisoned on Kristallnacht. Using the visas as proof of emigration, Goldstaubs were released within a few days and embarked to Shanghai.

Ho knew, however, that most of those getting Chinese visas would not be going to Shanghai. "I knew that the Chinese visas to Shanghai were 'in name' only. In reality, it was a means for them to find a way to get to the US, England or other destinations," he recalled.

After the Anschluss, Hedy Durlester's father, Fritz Heiduschka, was arrested, as were many Jewish heads of households. His wife, Berta, obtained a visa from the Chinese Consulate in Vienna and presented it to the Nazi authorities. He was released within hours. The family,, using Chinese visas, escaped from Austria and found shelter in Manila in the Philippines.

Soon, lines of desperate refugees formed at the Chinese Consulate seeking the lifesaving visas. Word spread, and in September 1938, when another Jew, Norbert Lagstein went to the Chinese Consulate for visas, there was such a "throng" that he despaired of ever getting in and resorted to jumping the line.

For the next two years, the compassionate Chinese Consul General in Vienna issued visas to any and all Jews who requested them.

A postscript on the Visa policy from Mordecai Paldiel at Yad VaShem in Israel:

Yad Vashem, Israel's Memorial Center to the Holocaust, concedes that many Jews reached Shanghai, and other destinations in China, without necessarily being armed with a proper visa. To go China, one did not need a visa, but to get out of Germany (including annexed Austria), and to be released from a concentration camp (after Kristallnacht), one needed a visa. This is where Ho's action proved helpful.

Ho issued visas to people so that they could with this document leave Nazi Germany, including being released from Dachau and other concentration camps. To repeat -- to enter China one did not necessarily need a visa, but to leave the Nazi world in 1938-39, one needed such a document. Many of the Jews who received visas from Ho, did not travel to China. Once out of Germany, they headed to Cuba, Sweden, Israel (then, Palestine) and other destinations.

His issuance of visas to allow Jews to exit Nazi Germany in time, plus the risks to his career following his disobediecne -- these two major factors prompted Yad Vashem to declare him a Righteous Among the Nations.