China funds statue of Danish war hero
Bernhard Arp Sindberg, a guard at a cement factory in China called “the Shining Buddha” and “Greatest Dane”, rescued thousands of Chinese civilians during the Japanese imperial army’s 1937 massacre in Nanjing.
Queen Margrethe II has unveiled a 3-metre bronze statue of Sindberg in a park near his former home in Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city.
He died 36 years ago in the US.
The statue is a gift from Nanjing and the work of Chinese artists Shang Rong and Fu Licheng and Denmark’s Lene Desmentik.
Sindberg was 26 in what was the capital of the Republic of China.
Soren Christensen of the Aarhus archives said Sindberg provided shelter and medical care for 6,000 to 10,000 civilians at a cement factory on the city’s fringe where he was working as a guard.
After just a few days thousands had taken refuge in the factory.
Chinese estimates that about 20,000 were saved.
Christensen said Sindberg “died in virtual oblivion and poverty, but who perhaps, after all, is one of the greatest heroes we’ve had”.
A German colleague, Karl Günther, and Sindberg created a camp and hospital for the Chinese.
Sindberg and Günther set up a makeshift hospital for Chinese refugees and risked their lives by driving out into the city to collect food, medicine and supplies for them from the Red Cross.
The Japanese occupation left around 300,000 dead.
Japanese historians have disputed the death toll, angering the Chinese.
The European pair painted the Danish flag on the factory roof to deter Japanese bombers and displayed the flag and German swastika around the site.
Japan was not hostile to Denmark or Germany, meaning the flags were respected.
Peter Harmsen, Sindberg’s biographer, said that he was average in terms of height and educational attainment.
“Something extraordinary happened to him during the dark winter of 1937-1938 in Nanjing. Faced with the abject cruelty of the Japanese army, he decided to act.”
When the Japanese arrived at the factory, the Dane would walk out and stop them, one survivor said.
Dai Yuanzhi, a Chinese journalist, said conditions at the camp were highly unpleasant.
Dai said: “Huge crowds of people stood or sat next to each other. The sheds were very close; there wasn’t even space for toilets.”
Sindberg left school in his early teens, worked on ships and briefly joined the French Foreign Legion.
The Dane worked as a chauffeur for Philip Pembroke Stephens, a British foreign correspondent who was killed by a Japanese machine-gunner while covering the invasion of Shanghai in November 1937.
He then served in the US Merchant Marine in the Second World War, then settled in California and rarely spoke about Nanjing. He died in 1983.
Nanjing is still a source of intense bitterness between Japan and China. Picture credit: Wikimedia