A tribute to those who risked their lives to save Jews

Shlomi Kofman
Ho Feng-shan, China's consul general in Vienna in 1938-1940, issued as many as 5,000 visas to Jewish refugees to help them escape Europe.
Shlomi Kofman

I was posted as deputy consul general of Israel in Shanghai. It was my first assignment, and I knew the city enjoys a vibrant and storied history.

But one story I never expected to hear — in a place thousands of miles away from Israel — is a tale of a man who saved thousands of Jews in the Holocaust.

Ho Feng-shan was then China’s consul general in Vienna, Austria. For the majority of his life, Ho’s good deeds remained unknown and only came to light after his death in 1997.

Following the Nazi annexation of Austria to Germany, and the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, life became increasingly difficult for Austrian Jews, and the only way for them to escape the Nazism was to flee Europe.

However, after the 1938 Evian Conference, this became ever more difficult as many countries decided to close their borders to Jewish refugees.

However, Ho issued as many as 5,000 visas for humanitarian reasons, enabling Jews to leave Europe.

Even though entering Shanghai didn’t require a visa at the time, issuing the visas allowed Jews a ticket out of Europe. Many refugees did end up in Shanghai, but not all.

In 2000, Ho was honored posthumously by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum, with a Righteous Among the Nations award for his work in saving many Jewish lives.

Ho was not alone. He was among a virtuous group of diplomats who, like him, issued visas and passports to Jews trying to escape the Nazis.

Being a new diplomat myself, I was extremely taken by these stories. They risked their own wellbeing and that of their families during these terrible times by issuing these visas.

The fact that these diplomats had saved thousands of lives, deeply affected me due to the nobleness and benevolence of their acts.

Putting everything on the line for the sake of justice. Some of the most famous of these diplomats are Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden, Chiune Sugihara of Japan and Aristides Mendes de Sousa of Portugal.

The Israeli government — through its Permanent Mission to the United Nations — initiated a UN adoption of International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27), which falls today. The UN General Assembly, with Resolution 60/7, adopted this resolution in 2005.

Many years later, in 2018, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in cooperation with Yad Vashem, honored 34 diplomats in a special exhibition called “Beyond Duty.”

The exhibit showcased the lifesaving efforts by these incredible human beings.

Indeed, it took years for these diplomats to get the recognition they deserved, but they were each honored with a Righteous Among the Nations award by Yad Vashem.

Since I began my term in San Francisco in 2017, we have honored these diplomats on several occasions.

We all joined to remember the dark days of the Holocaust and to say, “Never again.”

(Shlomi Kofman is currently consul general of Israel in San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest. The views are his own. )

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