A movie about the hero of this book has just won the German film prize, so it may be worth having another look at it. Rabe was a German expatriate manager in China in the 30s, posted to the then capital of the Republic of China in Nanking, now Nanjing. He worked for Siemens, one of Germany's largest firms. He was a member of the NSDAP. He wrote a diary. He stayed in Nanking when the Japanese army was invading and occupying the area. He ignored warnings to leave when the Kuomintang army evacuated the area and moved upriver. The capital moved to Chongqing, then called Chungking. Rabe stayed behind and made himself a name as a defender of Chinese civilians against the Japanese invaders. The Japanese troops are accused of the 'massacre of Nanjing', which cost apparently hundreds of thousands of lives. (More on this is provided in Iris Chang's haunting book on the massacre.) Rabe acted as a spokesman of the foreign community in Nanking towards the Japanese occupation forces. In his enthusiasm for the cause he went so far to write to the Fuehrer asking him to interfere with the Japanese for more humane behaviour.
The literary value of the diaries is limited. Their value lies in the documentary contents. We have an eyewitness to the atrocities. He was not the only one. Nevertheless, many Japanese deny that the massacre actually happened. This denial has some structural and logical similarity to some other people's denial of the holocaust.
What does the book tell us about the man Rabe? Maybe just this much: not every party member was a monster. It was possible after all to have illusions about the character of the Fuehrer and his fellow bandits. From the long distance and without the benefit of modern media, one could be deceived to believe their peace-propaganda (which was also part of their rhetoric, not just the fire brand version.)
On the main subject, the events in Nanjing in December 1937, I recommend Iris Chang's book 'The Rape of Nanking'.
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