Monday, 14 November 2016

John Rabe (5 Stars)

This film caused a stir when it was released in Germany in 2009. It tells the story of a forgotten hero, a German who saved 200,000 lives by standing up to the Japanese empire in 1937. At least, he's been forgotten in Germany. In China he's considered to be a hero of mythical proportions. A memorial plaque presented to Germany by the Chinese government in 2012 calls him a living Buddha.

So why was he forgotten in Germany? The answer is simple: John Rabe was a Nazi. In Germany it's not considered respectable to praise Nazis. John Rabe wasn't just a party member, he was more than a Mitläufer, he was an ardent follower of Adolf Hitler. He even wrote poems about Hitler.

To be fair, John Rabe really didn't know what was going on in Germany. He was sent to work for Siemens in China in 1911 and remained there until 1938. He missed the First World War. All he knew about Hitler was what he read in the newspapers, and due to the successful propaganda machinery the news was all good. He can be forgiven for believing that Hitler was a magnificent leader who would lead Germany to greatness.

When the Japanese army attacked Nanking John Rabe was given a ticket to return to Germany. He refused to leave. He remained to create a security zone, a demilitarised refuge for the Chinese. The Japanese killed 300.000 men, women and children, most of them within a single week in December 1937. John Rabe's security zone saved the lives of 200,000 others.

There are different versions of this film available, in German, English and Chinese. I recommend the original version, which is only available on the German Blu-ray release. This is the version that keeps all the original dialogue, spoken in German, English, Chinese and Japanese, with appropriate sub-titles. Even the German DVD release only contains the German language version with all the other languages dubbed.

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