During the tragic events of Nanjing (1937), a German, John rabe, played a major role in trying to protect some 200,000 Chinese from Japanese abuses. German director Florian Gallenberger - Oscar for best short film in 2001 - gives us a precious testimony to the life of this man, unknown in Europe but celebrated as a hero in China. A man who was also a member of the Nazi Party.
1937. President of the local Siemens subsidiary in Nanjing, John Rabe spent almost thirty years in the Chinese capital, it is time for him to return to Europe, recalled by Berlin. However, his farewell ceremony was interrupted by the start of the Japanese offensive on Nanjing. The bombardments begin. Westerners who have not fled the besieged city are proposing to establish a safe zone before saving and protecting the Chinese people. Now is the time for John Rabe to flee or take over as head of the committee behind this project.
Another vision of the Nanjing massacre
The events which took place in Nanjing, then the capital of China in the second half of 1937, are still today subject to controversy: a systematic and mass execution of Chinese soldiers, the extermination and rape of dozens of thousands of Chinese civilians. China speaks of 300,000 dead while Japan has failed to acknowledge the facts.
Lu Chuan's Chinese film was screened on our screens in 2010, City of life and death, dealing primarily with the relationship between Chinese and Japanese through the vision of a young Japanese officer who witnessed and participated in the horror and barbarism committed in Nanjing. Florian Gallenberger's film approaches this event from a different perspective: John Rabe's diary, which serves as the conductor of the film. He tells the story of the courage and determination of these few Westerners, John Rabe in the lead (played by an excellent Ulrich Tukur) accompanied by his compatriot Doctor Georg Rosen (Daniel Brühl) but also by the American doctor (Steve Buscemi) or the French teacher (Anne Consigny) who set up a security zone that protected some 200,000 to 250,000 Chinese from the abuses of the Imperial Japanese Army. Thus, beyond a few fictionalized scenes, it is a veritable historical film centered on this security zone, a sort of ghetto directly reminiscent of that of Warsaw - the zone being barely more than four kilometers squares - and on the rescue of Chinese civilians and soldiers but also on this man, who became a hero in China.
What is a Nazi?
John rabe is not just a historical film. It is also a biopic devoted to a member of the Nazi Party, in other words a subject of the most difficult to broach in Germany where the national feeling remains more delicate than ever while the Nanking massacre also remains a subject of the most complex and controversial. . Florian Gallenberger thus invites us to question ourselves on Nazism and on the meaning of being a Nazi in 1937 in China. One of the scenes in the film shows a Nazi flag flying over the Chinese to protect them from Japanese air force bombardment. The swastika, perhaps resembling the eastern swastika, then becomes for an instant a symbol of life and humanity.
It is not, however, a film aimed at any rehabilitation of Nazism. Indeed, John Rabe possesses in the film an evil double, his young successor embodying the values that we know of Nazism and against which he must fight to impose his resolutely human points of view as evidenced for example by his letter - which will remain a letter. dead - to Hitler himself to ask him to intervene with the Japanese allies to put an end to the massacres.
On the other hand, the character of John Rabe is not without flaws, he is decidedly racist and ethnocentric. For him, it is appropriate to “educate” the Chinese. Nevertheless, he remains a man of humanity, a humanity hardly acceptable in Nazi Germany. Repatriated to Berlin in 1938, John Rabe tried to alert the Germans to the events in Nanjing, supporting photographs and videos. The Gestapo arrested him for disobedience and destroyed his evidence. At the end of the war, as a member of the Nazi Party, John Rabe was imprisoned by the Russians and then handed over to the British. He was not released until 1946 thanks to his humanitarian work. He died poor and forgotten in Berlin in 1950, owing only to a small pension paid by the Chinese government. In 1997, his coffin was transferred to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial - now Nanjing City - where he was paid tribute. Celebrated as the cultured "Righteous of Nanjing," John Rabe is considered one of the best-known German figures in China.
Large fresco, John rabe is a good historical film combining bravery, romanticism and emotions. Supported by excellent actors and magnified by the performance of Ulrich Tukur, we will however regret the sometimes too academic achievement of Florian Gallenberger which does not equal in level of intensity on the Nanking massacre that of the Chinese film City of life and death. This film is nevertheless an opportunity to discover the action of a simple and modest man, human before being a Nazi and becoming a hero in spite of himself.
John rabe, by Florian Gallenberger, at the cinema on April 27, 2011
the movie trailer