9 Feb 2009

Film on German hero in China

10:41 am on 9 February 2009

The life of a German engineer who helped save 200,000 Chinese people from Japanese troops in 1937 in the subject of a new film screening at the Berlin Film Festival.

John Rabe is based on a true story arising from the Nanjing Massacre, which is also known as "The Rape of Nanking".

Director Florian Gallenberger says he hopes the film will spark debate and help Japan come to terms with its past.

Rabe was an electrical executive working for Siemens in Nanjing, which was then the capital of China.

Japanese soldiers carried out a wave of killing in the city after it fell to them in 1937. The killings lasted for six weeks.

Chinese accounts say 300,000 were killed. An allied tribunal later put the death toll at about 142,000.

However, some Japanese politicians and scholars still deny a massacre took place. Japan occupied much of China from the 1930s up to 1945.

Rabe was head of an "International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone" and helped set up a seven-sq-km zone where about 200,000 people were sheltered.

He had worked in China for Siemens for 30 years and used his Nazi party membership to do all he could to protect the civilians.

Rabe was arrested by the Gestapo upon his return to Berlin in 1938 for collaborating with the Chinese. After World War II, the Allies refused to de-Nazify him.

He died in Berlin in 1950 in poverty and forgotten, but remained a hero in China. He is sometimes called "the Oskar Schindler of China".

The German-Chinese co-production, in English and German, features Ulrich Tukur (The Lives of Others) in the title role and American actor Steve Buscemi as a US doctor in the city.