TORONTO — Three Toronto MPs will come together Thursday night to honour a man some refer to as the Chinese Oskar Schindler.
The late Feng Shan Ho, a Chinese diplomat who helped thousands of Jews escape Nazi-occupied Austria by granting them immigration visas from 1938 to 1940, will be honoured by York Centre MP Mark Adler, Willowdale MP Chungsen Leung and Etobicoke-Centre MP Ted Opitz at the Hillcrest Library on Jan. 26 at 6:30 p.m.
Speaking from her home in San Francisco, Ho’s daughter, Manli Ho, said she is very proud that her father is being honoured and that people are beginning to learn about his life-saving actions.
She said it wasn’t until her father died in 1997 at the age of 96 that she learned about how he helped Jews escape Austria.
Manli said she has since spent more than a decade researching her father’s past and is working on a book.
She said her father had been very vague about his years as the Chinese consul general in Vienna, but in the weeks following his death, she began to do some research and discovered that he issued immigration visas to Jews who were desperate to escape Vienna after Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938.
“When I started, [his story] really was virtually unknown. No one had heard about my father,” she said.
Few countries were willing to open their doors to Jews, but Ho, who had a “liberal policy,” authorized visas to anyone who asked.
Word quickly spread among the Jewish population that the Chinese consulate was granting papers. In the months before the outbreak of war, Ho issued thousands of visas, averaging 500 a month.
Manli said that, interestingly, in 1937, after Japan invaded China, visas to Shanghai issued by Chinese diplomats were virtually worthless. She explained that Shanghai’s harbour had no passport control, meaning anyone could cross the border into China unchecked.
But the visas weren’t necessarily tickets into Shanghai. Rather, they were tickets out of Vienna.
She said issuing end-destination visas to Shanghai was a ploy to provide Jewish refugees with the proof of emigration required by Nazi authorities to leave Austria.
“I have one quote from [his memoirs] that said, ‘Visas to Shanghai were in name only. It was really a means to facilitate people to get out of Austria.’”
The visas even helped Jews who were imprisoned in Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps prior to the war.
“If your father, brother or uncle had been arrested… and deported to Dachau or Buchenwald, if you went to the Gestapo and said, ‘Look, look, look – I have a visa, I have proof that he can emigrate somewhere,’ they let him go,” she said.
As many as 18,000 Jews reached Shanghai, and thousands more used their visas to reach other destinations, including Palestine, the Philippines and Cuba.
Manli said that when she began researching her father’s past, “I started looking for people… who had gotten these visas.”
The first survivor she tracked down who had kept a visa that her father had issued was Toronto resident Eric Goldstaub.
“As a result of my finding survivors like Eric Goldstaub and his cousin, Harry, who was born in Shanghai… people like them wrote into Yad Vashem and Yad Vashem investigated, and three years after my father’s death, they designated my father as Righteous Among the Nations [in 2000].”
Adler, who will be speaking at Thursday’s event from the perspective as a son of a Holocaust survivor, praised Ho as an example of one of the countless “unsung heroes” who helped Jews survive.
“There are a lot of unsung heroes that did a lot of good work at the time and rescued a lot of lives, and I think there are probably dozens and dozens more that we don’t know about and probably will never know about,” Adler said.
Goldstaub, a 90-year-old Willowdale resident who was issued 20 visas for himself and his family members by Ho in 1938, plans to attend the event.
In November, Goldstaub told the National Post that he owes his life to Ho.
“If I never knocked on that door in Vienna, I would have been in a concentration camp,” he said. “And I would have died, I am almost sure of that. Our whole family would have died. We needed Feng Shan Ho. He saved us. It was a miracle.”