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In Seattle, a tribute to a Chinese man who saved Jewish lives


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Ho is being honored in a traveling exhibit called, "Visas for Life: The Story of Dr. Feng Shan Ho," now at Seattle's Wing Luke Asian Museum.

"I'm not surprised that this is something that he would do," said his daughter Manli Ho, 51, of Arrowsic, Maine. "He was a risk taker and he was always, always adamant about his principles and his integrity."

Born Sept. 10, 1901, in China's Hunan province, Feng Shan Ho grew up fatherless and in poverty. He was educated by the Norwegian Lutheran Mission in China and attended the College of Yale-in-China, a private, nonprofit organization begun by Yale graduates and now called the Yale-China Association. Ho also earned a doctorate from the University of Munich.

He joined the Chinese Nationalist government's foreign service in 1935 and was first assigned to the embassy in Ankara, Turkey. Fluent in English and German, he was assigned to the consulate in Vienna two years later. And when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, he was appointed the Chinese consul general there.

One of the only two stories Ho told his daughter about his time in Vienna was his memory of Adolf Hitler's triumphant march into the city where 170,000 of the 185,000 Austrian Jews lived.

"He said Hitler showed up and the people welcomed him fanatically," recalled Manli Ho. "My father was appalled."

The other story was about how he gave some Jewish friends visas so they could leave Austria.

Ho later served as an ambassador to Egypt, Mexico, Bolivia and Columbia before retiring from the foreign service and settling in San Francisco in 1973. When her father died Sept. 28, 1997, at the age of 96, Manli Ho included this single sentence about what he'd done in Austria in his obituary: "Saved Jews during World War II." Eric Saul, an independent curator from San Francisco who was putting together an exhibit of diplomats who helped Jews escape persecution, spotted that reference and contacted the daughter.

Since then, Manli Ho has researched the history of her father's time in Vienna, searching the archives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and learning the extent of what her father did.

She learned that her father had a "liberal" visa policy and gave them to any and all who requested one. She found a report stating that during the two years her father headed the consulate in Vienna, he wrote an average of 450 visas a month.

"When this started unfolding, more and more I have a thousand questions that I want to ask him," she said.

Feng Shan Ho grew up in a China that had been invaded by eight countries, Manli Ho said.

"He came from a generation of Chinese who had felt humiliated and bullied and pushed around by imperialist powers," she said. "He always told me, 'Do not allow yourself to be bullied. You have to be proud to be Chinese.' When he saw the Jews being persecuted, it must have been an immediate reaction that he had to do something."

On July 7, 2000, Israel posthumously awarded Feng Shan Ho the title of "Righteous Among the Nations" for his humanitarian courage. According to the exhibit, he is one of 27 diplomats officially recognized by Israel for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust.

The exhibit at the Wing Luke is paired with one recreating the Japanese internment camp at Washington state's Puyallup Fairgrounds, "Camp Harmony."

"It's a way to see how continued prejudice can build up and lead to concentration camps," said museum spokeswoman Van Diep. "In Europe it was death camps, here it was internment camps. We really wanted to promote (the Ho exhibit) as someone standing up against the backlash of an ethnic group."

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