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episode 142: Peter Harmsen, "Bernhard Sindberg: The Schindler of Nanjing" (Casemate, 2024)


In December 1937, the Chinese capital, Nanjing, falls and the Japanese army unleash an orgy of torture, murder, and rape. Over the course of six weeks, hundreds of thousands of civilians and prisoners of war are killed. At the very onset of the atrocities, the Danish supervisor at a cement plant just outside the city, 26-year-old Bernhard Arp Sindberg, opens the factory gates and welcomes in 10,000 Chinese civilians to safety, beyond the reach of the blood-thirsty Japanese. He becomes an Asian equivalent of Oskar Schindler, the savior of Jews in the European Holocaust.

Bernhard Sindberg: The Schindler of Nanjing (Casemate, 2024) follows Sindberg from his childhood in the old Viking city of Aarhus and on his first adventures as a sailor and a Foreign Legionnaire to the dramatic 104 days as a rescuer of thousands of helpless men, women, and children in the darkest hour of the Sino-Japanese War. It describes how after his remarkable achievement, he receded back into obscurity, spending decades more at sea and becoming a naturalized American citizen, before dying of old age in Los Angeles in 1983, completely unrecognized. In this respect, too, there is an obvious parallel with Schindler, who only attained posthumous fame.

The book sets the record straight by providing the first complete account of Sindberg's life in English, based on archival sources hitherto unutilized by any historian as well as interviews with surviving relatives. What emerges is the surprising tale of a person who was average in every respect but rose to the occasion when faced with unimaginable brutality, discovering an inner strength and courage that transformed him into one of the great humanitarian figures of the 20th century and an inspiration for our modern age, demonstrating that the determined actions of one person--any person--can make a huge difference.

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 February 28, 2024  1h14m