Bernhard Arp Sindberg

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Sindberg inspects the refugee camp that he and Karl Gunther established in the northern suburb of Nanjing.

Bernhard Arp Sindberg (19 February 1911 – 1983) also known as "Mr. Xin" or "Xinbo"[1] The Greatest Dane,[2] the shining Buddha[2] or "our saviour" was born in Aarhus, Denmark and went out into the world at age 17 and lived most of his life in the U.S., where he also died. His urge to travel took him far around the world, particularly to China, where he was one of the few foreigners who witnessed the Nanking Massacre. He behaved not passive to the atrocities and later, his pictures, letters and experiences, played a role in the understanding of the massacre.[1] His very active efforts saved 6,000 Chinese from a cruel fate and he has been honoured on several occasions. This later gave him the title; "a friend of China".[3]

Early life[edit]

His urge to travel started in the childhood years, when he ran away as a 2-year-old, but he was found and taken home again. The second time he ran away was on a bicycle. He reached halfway across the country. The third time he reached even further and was first stopped at the America-steamer in Hamburg, Germany.[2] At the age of 17, his family could no longer keep him home and went to the U.S. for 3 years and then returned home. He joined the Foreign Legion,[1] but was disappointed the people and the hard efforts in the Moroccan desert, and after 10 months service, he ran off into the mountains and out of the country as a stowaway on a ship.

The time in China[edit]

He arrived in China in 1934 as a stowaway on a Danish merchant ship, trapped and handcuffed in the ship's detention after a few loud arguments and scuffles with an officer on board.[1] Bernhard escaped to further indictments and then had several different jobs, including one where he demonstrated Danish rifles for the Chinese. The work of Danish Rifle Syndicate petered out,[2] because Japan had already begun to invade China under Second Sino-Japanese War and the Danish government would not bother the Japanese.[1]

A picture of a dead child. Probably taken by Bernhard Sindberg.

When the Japanese troops occupied Shanghai, Bernhard was hired as a chauffeur for the English journalist, Pembroke Stephens, who worked for The Daily Telegraph.[1] They drove around Shanghai, and described the war, in the next few months. One day they climbed a water tower to look at the Japanese air strike on the city and it was here that Pembroke Stephens was killed by machine gun salvo from a Japanese aircraft.[2]

The Danish company F.L. Smidth was at that time, building a concrete factory in the Chinese capital, Nanjing, and wanted to protect their investment against the Japanese rampage, so they hired Bernhard as a guard. The job was dangerous, but very well paid.[1] Bernard arrived in Nanjing 2 December 1937 and there he met the only other foreigner in the factory, the German Karl Gunther. After only 11 days the troops arrived and the Japanese atrocities began. Bernhard went around in Nanjing and the surrounding area and documented with his camera, what happened.[1] The evidence, faded black-and-white photos and his own comments thereto, is assembled in an album, which currently stands at a museum in Texas.[2]

Bernhard and Karl escaped the Japanese bombing by displaying the Danish flag Dannebrog and Karl with the German swastika flag, two nations the Japanese had respect for and was not at war with.[1] The Chinese civilians soon realized this and rushed to the factory and the nearby Quixa Temple. Bernhard and Karl took them in, set up a makeshift hospital and risked their lives, as they repeatedly drove out to get food and medicine and supplies from Red Cross to the refugees. After the first six weeks the situation started to get better for the locals, but the attacks and killings did not stop, but slowed down only.[1] Inside the factory area the refugees fought against disease, cold and hunger. But Bernhard was under pressure. The Japanese soldiers in the city did not like his efforts.[1] After almost 3 months, the Japanese ran out of patience and Bernhard was dismissed and sent to Shanghai and took a ship to Europe.

At his arrival in Europe in 1938, Bernhard was picked up by his father in Italy. On the way home they took around Geneva, where Bernhard was thanked and awarded honours for his efforts, by a Chinese delegation. Bernhard emigrated to the USA, and became the captain of an American merchant fleet.[2] Here he also made a remarkable contribution, his sister, Bitten Stenvig Andersen, has a document in which President Harry S. Truman thanks him for his efforts in the Navy during World War II, the document does not state what the efforts were.[2] In the U.S., he lived the rest of his life. He married Blair Sinberg on May 4, 1941, but they were later divorced. He had no children and died in California in 1983.[1]

Two of Bernhards relatives, Bitten Andersen and Ole Sindberg have been to China several times to receive the honour on his behalf after his death and have also met with survivors who have been told details of Bernhard's efforts.[citation needed] One of them, Wang Yongli, stayed 100 days on the cement factory as a teenager. To the newspaper China Daily, he said:

"Without his help we would not have had any chance to survive. We hope that the goodness in people like Sindberg will live on."

Nanjing Forever – the Sindberg Rose

On Bitten Andersen initiative, the flower maker Rosa Eskelund, named one of her yellow roses, "Nanjing Forever - the Sindberg Rose". It is meant to grow in the beds outside of Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in memory of Bernhard Sindberg and Chinese he rescued from the massacre.[4]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • The rape of Nanjing by Iris Chang
  • 1937-1938 A Dane in Bloodstained Nanjing - Testimony on Humanity and Violence

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Nordic Association for China Studies Archived July 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h The Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidendes homepage. Danish language. Retrieved 2010-10-21.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2010-10-22. 
  4. ^ Nanjing Memorials homepage Archived December 5, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 2010-10-21.