John Rabe hits the screens

Source:Global Times Published: 2009-4-29 20:20:26

By Qiao Yi

Scene from John Rabe

 Japan’s infamous 1937 invasion of Nanjing is an event known around the world for the brutality of the assault. While much of the horrific details are painfully clear, it often goes unnoticed that much of the assault’s historical record is derived not from Chinese or Japanese witnesses, but from Westerners resident in the city at the time, who have left behind a wealth of first-hand accounts and photographs.

One of the better-known foreigners to have witnessed the atrocities is John Rabe, a German businessman who worked in China for nearly 30 years. Even though he was a member of the Nazi party, Rabe is revered as one of the heroes of Nanjing, as suggested by the German title of his diaries, “The Good German of Nanking.”

The middle-aged Rabe helped to escort thousands of Nanjing residents into a sprawling 7-square-kilometer international safety zone centered on the American embassy and the University of Nanjing during the fighting.

Rabe organized food and shelter for the zone’s refugees, but more importantly is credited with saving the lives of as many as 250,000 people.

Rabe’s story has now been adapted into a new movie entitled John Rabe by German writer and director Florian Gallenberger.

In the new film, which premiered in Germany three weeks ago and opened in Beijing yesterday, Gallenberger has brought the German back to life in a classical war drama that tells the story of the Nanjing massacre through the eyes of Rabe. “It’s taken more than 70 years for John Rabe to get the recognition he deserves. It was our duty to take a neutral view, not a Japanese nor a Chinese viewpoint, and I believe we’ve accomplished that,” Gallenberger said earlier this week while in Beijing promoting his film. The film features a stellar cast, including Ulrich Tukur, one of Germany’s leading actors, as the calm and collected Rabe. Chinese actress Zhang Jingchu, who appeared alongside Jackie Chan in Rush Hour 3, plays a student whose secret trips to her family outside the zone lead to one of the film’s tensest sequences.

John Rabe has won four awards at the German Film Prize, Germany’s equivalent of the Oscars, including the awards for the best film and the best actor.

Gallenberger’s film is not the first picture to focus on Rabe’s heroism. Since the publication of Rabe’s diary in 1997, his story has become a central theme of several narratives of the tragedy, such as the powerful 2007 documentary Nanking by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturm.

Witnessing the horrific event, Rabe foresaw the importance of his journal, writing that, “I wanted to see these atrocities with my own eyes, so that I can speak as an eyewitness later. A man cannot be silent about this kind of cruelty!”

The China release of John Rabe comes on the heels of director Lu Chuan’s Nanjing-themed film City of Life and Death. The film tells the story of the Nanjing massacre through the eyes of Chinese and Japanese soldiers and witnesses and has grossed 10 million dollars in its opening week.

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