The Chinese Diplomat Who Saved Thousands of Jews
The story of Dr. Feng-Shan Ho, the Chinese consul general in Vienna who saved thousands of Jews during Nazi occupation
Eric Goldstaub was 17 years old in Nazi-occupied Austria and it was up to him to get his family out.
The year was 1938. When Hitler’s men rolled in, the Jews of Vienna were beaten and humiliated, forced to scrub the streets.
With Jewish children barred from schools and the situation looking dire, young Goldstaub spent his days trekking from one foreign consulate office to the next, trying to secure visas for his family.
He didn’t care where they went, but he knew they had to get out of Europe — fast.
Door after door, country after country, the answer was no.
Until he tried China.
The response from that country’s consul general was unhesitant: Yes. Come back tomorrow. Bring as many passports as you want. I’ll stamp them all.
“I couldn’t believe my ears,” says Goldstaub, now 90, a lifetime and two countries later. “I didn’t even know where China was, to tell you the truth.”
Goldstaub tells the story in his North York condo, surrounded by trinkets and remnants from his young life in Vienna and Shanghai, and dozens of clocks collected since the 1950s, when he immigrated to Toronto and started a clock-importing business.
“I went to every God damn consulate there was in Austria,” Goldstaub remembers, shaking his head. “I must have been to 15 before I found him. And it’s a good thing I did. He saved our lives.”
The man was Dr. Feng-Shan Ho, the Chinese consul general in Vienna at the time. Goldstaub took 18 passports to him the next day — papers for his parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Ho stamped them all.
Ho was one of a handful of foreign diplomats who collectively helped save tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, issuing visas in direct defiance of their superiors. At the time, Jews did not need a visa to get into Shanghai, but they needed one to get out of Austria. Hailed as an unsung hero of the time, Ho’s story was told in Toronto this week at lecture to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day — April 18.
Bernie Farber, a human-rights activist and former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress,learned about Ho on a trip to China a few years ago and has since become obsessed with finding others like him. Farber’s lecture tells stories of wily courage — Mexican, Iranian and American consuls who concealed, smuggled and handed out life-saving visas to Jews during the Holocaust, at risk to their own lives.
“To find diplomats who boldly and with moxie chose to reject their governments’ orders to stop trying to save Jews, that to me was astounding because I’d never heard these stories before,” says Farber, the son of a Holocaust survivor.
Ho died in 1997 without ever having met again with the people whose lives he saved.
After escaping Europe, Goldstaub and his family settled in Shanghai. They left their country with next to nothing. “But we were happy,” he says, “we took our lives with us.”
They lived in China for more than a decade before immigrating to Canada. Looking back on his life in Toronto — a happy marriage, three children, two grandchildren and a successful family business — Goldstaub thanks Ho for it. And so do other members of his family.
Harry Fiedler, 71, is Goldstaub’s cousin, the son of his mother’s brother. Fiedler was born in Shanghai two years after the family escaped Austria. He has grown up hearing the tale of Dr. Feng-Shan Ho and the life-saving visas.
Fiedler thinks often of the impact Ho has had on his family and the impact he will continue to have for generations to come.
“My parents had me, I have two children and now I have four grandchildren. And those four grandchildren are eventually going to have kids — all as a result of Dr. Ho signing those documents,” he says. “It just carries on.”
This story first appeared on Metro.