A Review By: Amelia
I’ve had a grim fascination with World War Two since I was a child thanks to my grandfather who told me countless war stories. I thought I knew everything there was to know about the war into a few years ago when I read a historical fiction novel called The Devil of Nanking (which I have also reviewed for this blog). It had details about a part of the war that I had no idea existed: the Asian invasions and conflict that Japan roused in China. Since discovering this facts, I’ve had an even grimer fascination with the rape of Nanking and have read all the material I could find on the topic. That is how I came into possession of the book The Good Man of Nanking.
The Good Man of Nanking is a diary that documents one of World War Two’s most horrific incidents of genocide, one which the Japanese have steadfastly refused to acknowledge. In November 1937, as Japanese troops overran the Chinese capital of Nanking and began a campaign of torture, rape, and murder against its citizens, one man put himself at risk and in order to save the lives of 200,000 poor Chinese.
John Rabe was a German businessman and member of the Nazi party who is best known for his efforts to stop the atrocities of the Japanese army during the Nanking Occupation and his work to protect and help the Chinese civilians during the event. The Nanking Safety Zone, which he helped to establish, sheltered approximately 200,000 Chinese people from slaughter during the massacre. He officially represented Germany and acted as senior chief of the European–American establishment that remained in Nanking when the city fell to the Japanese troops. He kept an extensive account in the form of a diary documenting the fall and subsequent rape of Nanking. His diary includes the years leading up to and during the Rape of Nanking and after he left China and returned to Germany.
Rabe’s record of this often forgotten World War Two massacre is an awe-inspiring tale of one man’s generosity and bravery in the face of appalling, unnecessary human brutality. Rabe’s thoughts convey not only jarring information that few people knew about, but also his emotions. This diary is that of a man who was pushed to his breaking point but just kept going because he knew if he didn’t, more people would have been slaughtered. Rabe was a Nazi but much against what we know Nazis to be. He was a good man and without him, what happened in Nanking could have been much worse for much longer.
My final thoughts on The Good Man of Nanking are that it’s an interesting book with a very niche topic. It’s certainly not something a casual nonfiction reader could pick up and fall into, but a history buff might find many new (if mostly disturbing) facts.