‘China’s Oskar Schindler’ Takes German Oscar

Best Actor: Ulrich Tukur plays John Rabe in the German film of the same name.
Best Actor: Ulrich Tukur plays John Rabe in the German film of the same name.

By Nathan Burstein

Published April 29, 2009, issue of May 08, 2009.
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A movie about “China’s Oskar Schindler” claimed the top prize at the recent German Film Awards.

“John Rabe,” a biopic about a German industrialist who helped save as many as a quarter-million Chinese during the Rape of Nanking, was named best picture and took home the best actor prize for Ulrich Tukur, who played the title character. The film tells the true story of Rabe, sometimes referred to as “the good Nazi,” who led efforts to establish an international security zone for civilians during the Japanese invasion of Nanking, now known as Nanjing, in late 1937 and ’38. The head of local operations at the energy and communications company Siemens AG, Rabe used his own property to shelter more than 600 civilians, protecting them under a swastika banner that marked the area as off-limits to Germany’s Japanese allies. A member of the Nazi Party, Rabe attempted to publicize the atrocities he witnessed after returning to Germany in 1938, but he was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo, which demanded he abandon his efforts. He died in obscurity in 1950, but returned to public consciousness in Germany and China, following the publication of his diaries in 1998.

German press coverage of the film has drawn parallels between Rabe and Schindler, the German industrialist who saved Jews during the Holocaust, said Dirk Schuerhoff, a managing director at Beta Film, which produced the movie. Its success at the German Film Awards means the film stands a “big, big chance” of representing the country in the foreign language category at next year’s Oscars, Schuerhoff said, describing the movie as, “topicwise, a good film for the Academy.”

Despite performing poorly at the German box office, “John Rabe” has been picked up for distribution in half a dozen European countries, and producers hope to sign a deal with an American distributor following a screening at the Cannes International Film Festival this month.

Director Florian Gallenberger and principal cast members attended the film’s Chinese premiere April 28 in Beijing. The movie will open on more than 750 screens in China, Schuerhoff said.

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