There is a story widely reported by prominent newspapers and government outlets in China that Thomas Rabe, the grandson of John Rabe, asked China for medicine and medical supplies at the start of the COVID pandemic in April 2020 because there was a shortage of it in Heidelberg. Thomas Rabe was reported to be a medical doctor at Heidelberg University and is part of the team confronting COVID. And John Rabe is the "Schindler of China" who protected thousands of Chinese civilians during the horrendous Rape of Nanking during WWII.

It was March 2020. COVID-19 was sweeping the world and putting millions of lives in danger. The Chinese Embassy in Germany received a call for help from a doctor at the Medical Faculty of Heidelberg University in Heidelberg, southwest Germany, requesting medical supplies from China to aid his hospital in fighting COVID-19. The doctor was no other than Thomas Rabe, the grandson of John Rabe, a renowned German businessman who led the Nanjing Safety Zone and wrote The Diaries of John Rabe during World War II.

I want to know if this story, although touching, is true. The only source reporting it in English seems to only be from Chinese media. Are there reports and documentation about this event that come from other nations? What about German (I am not a German speaker)?


1 Answer 1


tl;dr summary: Partially False but close to a true event.

There is an official press release by the City of Heidelberg about an event that sounds close to this claim


The City of Nanjing donated 15,000 masks to the City of Heidelberg, and 200 protective overalls and 9,000 protective masks to the Heidelberg University Hospital. In addition, the Chi­na Wo­men‘s De­ve­lop­ment Foun­da­ti­on in Beijing was at the time of writing the article expected to donate another 100,000 masks to the Heidelberg University Hospital.

Thomas Rabe initiated and facilitated at least the donation of the City of Nanjing (the article's wording is ambiguous). Thomas Rabe's specialty was gynecology and women's reproductive health, so it is plausible that he had contacts at the Chi­na Wo­men‘s De­ve­lop­ment Foun­da­ti­on.


Thomas Rabe retired in 2016. He was not working at the University Hospital at the time and there is no indication in the article that he was still practicing as a doctor. He was 69 years old in 2020, which is past the official retirement age. That doesn't make it impossible for him to work, but it makes it less likely.

There is no mention in the article of Thomas Rabe being "part of the team confronting COVID" and it would be unlikely given that he was a) retired and b) a gynecologist, not an epidemiologist, virologist, vaccinologist, immunologist, or any other form of specialist for infectious diseases or respiratory illnesses. From the tone of the article, it seems like he simply used his connections to China to organize some supplies but there is no indication given that he did so in any form of official capacity.

There is also no mention in the article of any medicine, only masks and suits.

  • 5
    It's certainly not impossible he was involved in the covid response as a doctor. Here in the UK we had medical staff both redeployed away from their specialities, and returning from retirement. That doesn't mean he, or indeed anyone in Germany, did so - your "less likely" is about right.
    – Chris H
    Jun 19, 2023 at 9:59

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