While serving as a diplomat for China Ho Feng-Shan became one of the great unsung heroes of World War II. Against the orders of his superior, Ho saved thousands of Austrian Jews during the early WWII years. He has come to be known as “China’s Schindler.”
Ho was born in Yiyang in the Hunan Province of China September 10, 1901. He grew up in poverty after his father’s death at the age of seven. Through sheer hard-work and talent Ho won admission to the Yali school in the capital of Changsha, and later, Yale-in-China University. In 1932 he earned his Ph.D. in political economics at Munich University.
In 1935 Ho began his diplomatic career with the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of China. In 1938 he was appointed Chinese Consul General in Vienna. By then, Austria had been annexed by Nazi Germany and saw eruptions of anti-Semitism. “The persecution of Jews by Hitler’s ‘devils’ became increasingly fierce,” Ho recalls. Nazi authorities told Jews that they could avoid deportation to Dachau or Buchenwald if they obtained visas from other countries.
Denied entry by virtually every other nation, desperate Jews turned to the Chinese consulate. Dr. Ho was liberal in issuing them visas to Shanghai despite the firm opposition of the Chinese ambassador to Berlin, Ho’s superior, who was eager to maintain good diplomatic relations with Germany. He called Ho and ordered him to discontinue the visas. Ho replied that it was the Chinese foreign ministry’s orders to maintain a liberal policy and continued issuing visas to all applicants.
Less than a year after the Chinese consulate was established, the Nazis confiscated the Jewish-owned consul building. The Chinese government refused Ho’s request to relocate the consul, forcing Ho to finance a move to smaller facilities out of his own pocket. The total number of the Jews Dr. Ho rescued is unknown. However, given the fact that nearly 2,000 visas were issued by him during the first half-year at his post, estimates range in the thousands.
In 1940 Ho was transferred from Vienna. He spent the rest of World War II engaged in China’s war efforts against Japan. For the next 40 years he served at various diplomatic postings before retiring in 1973 to San Francisco to join his children. Dr. Ho eventually became a US citizen and wrote his memoirs, 40 Years of My Diplomatic Life which was published in 1990. Ho passed away on September 28, 1997 at the age of 96. Ten years after his death Dr. Feng Shan Ho was buried with his wife in his hometown of Yiyang, China.
Ho never spoke about his heroic humanitarian service to persecuted Jews. Aside from the black mark on his personnel file for disobeying his superior’s orders, Ho’s actions went unnoticed during his lifetime. It was only after his death that his actions were discovered by chance through his diplomatic papers and later, the investigations of his daughter, Manli Ho.
In 2000, the state of Israel posthumously made Dr. Ho an honorary citizen of Israel and granted him one of Israel’s highest honors, the title of Righteous Among the Nations. His daughter, Manli Ho would later tell China Daily: “My father’s greatest legacy was to be who he was.”