Paul Scharffenberg – Chancellor of Tianjin/Nanjing

Spread the love

Paul Hermann Johannes Scharffenberg was born on December 2, 1873, in Kobylnik, Poland. In 1888, he began studying at a school for non-commissioned officers, and in July 1900, he joined the Second Infantry Division East Asia in Beijing. From 1901-1903, he was a member of the East Asian Occupation Brigade. After almost 13 years of military service, he left the army and became an employee of Tianjin’s German Consulate. He was promoted to consulate secretary and chancellor in 1913. On June 2, 1916, he married Hilde Wedde, who lived in China as a home teacher. During WWI, the Scharffenbergs were evicted from the country in April 1917 (this document is precisely from this event!), but they returned in 1922. In late 1921, Scharffenberg had been appointed chancellor of the consulate general in Tianjin, and on January 11, 1922, he acceded to his position. On September 1, 1934, he was transferred to the German delegation in Beijing, which was converted into the German Embassy and relocated to Nanjing in 1935. Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

I contacted Dr. Torsten Weber, Principal Researcher for Modern East Asian History, specializing in the history of Japanese-Chinese relations and interactions at the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ Tokyo), and he gave me some further information on the document.

The Document Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing
This travel document was issued due to severance of diplomatic relations in April 1917 by the Japanese Consulate General in Shanghai for Chancellor Scharffenberg & wife.

The documents seem to be some kind of transit ticket (eventually a Geleitschein/Schutzschein) for the passage of the Scharffenbergs from Shanghai via Nagasaki to the USA, issued in April 1917 by the Japanese Consulate General in Shanghai. They were to take the Dutch steamer “Goentor” (I can’t read that very well) from Shanghai on April 8. The reason given is the severance of diplomatic relations. The document comes in excellent condition, without any damage, showing two pictures, stamps from the Japanese Consulate General in Shanghai, 28 x 40cm. Besides the Japanese language, we can read “Paul Scharffenberg, Chancellor German Consulate, Tientsin – Mrs. Scharffenberg” Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

The Nanjing Massacre Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

On December 8, 1937, Scharffenberg and his colleagues from the German Embassy and members of two other embassies and their nationals left Nanjing via the British gunship Cricket on the Yangtze. The massacre occurred over six weeks, starting on December 13, 1937, when the Japanese captured Nanjing. During this period, soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army murdered disarmed combatants and Chinese civilians, numbering an estimated 40,000 to over 300,000, and perpetrated widespread rape and looting.

The Chinese government left for relocation on December 1, and the president left on December 7, leaving the fate of Nanjing to an International Committee led by John Rabe, a German national.

In an attempt to secure permission for this ceasefire from Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Rabe, who was living in Nanjing and had been acting as the Chairman of the Nanking International Safety Zone Committee, boarded the USS Panay on December 9. From this gunboat, Rabe sent two telegrams. The first was to Chiang through an American ambassador in Hankow, asking that Chinese forces “undertake no military operations” within Nanjing. The second telegram was sent through Shanghai to Japanese military leaders, advocating for a three-day ceasefire so the Chinese could withdraw from the city. Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

The following day, on December 10, Rabe got his answer from the Generalissimo. The American ambassador in Hankow replied that although he supported Rabe’s proposal for a ceasefire, Chiang did not. Rabe says that the ambassador also “sent us a separate confidential telegram telling us that he has been officially informed by the Foreign Ministry in Hankow that our understanding that General Tang agreed to a three-day armistice and the withdrawal of his troops from Nanjing is mistaken, and that Chiang Kai-shek has announced that he is not in a position to accept such an offer.” In Rabe’s mind, this rejection of the Committee’s ceasefire plan sealed the city’s fate. Nanjing had been constantly bombed for days, and the Chinese troops that remained there were disheartened and had taken to drinking before the city’s inevitable fall.

On December 11, Rabe found that Chinese soldiers were still residing in areas of the Safety Zone, meaning that it became an intended target for Japanese attacks despite the majority being innocent civilians. Rabe commented on how efforts to remove these Chinese troops failed, and Japanese soldiers began to lob grenades into the refugee zone. Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

Many Westerners lived in the city then, conducting trade or on missionary trips. As the Japanese army approached Nanjing, most fled the city, leaving 27 foreigners. Five were journalists who remained in the city a few days after it was captured, leaving the city on December 16. Fifteen of the remaining 22 foreigners formed a committee called the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone in the city’s western quarter.

German businessman John Rabe was elected as its leader because of his status as a member of the Nazi Party and the German-Japanese bilateral Anti-Comintern Pact. The Japanese government had previously agreed not to attack parts of the city that did not contain Chinese military forces, and the members of the Committee managed to persuade the Chinese government to move their troops out of the area. The Nanking Safety Zone was restricted through the use of Red Cross Flags.

On December 1, 1937, Nanjing Mayor Ma Chaochun ordered all Chinese citizens remaining in Nanjing to move into the “Safety Zone.” Many fled the city on December 7, and the International Committee took over as Nanjing’s de facto government. Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing

Together with Rosen and Hürter, he returned on January 9, 1938, and re-opened the German Embassy. Scharffenberg died of food poisoning on June 19, 1938.

Read more details in John Rabe’s Nanjing Diaries and also some information in the diaries of Paul Scharffenberg.

Paul Scharffenberg Tianjin Nanjing
“Farewell tea was given in honor of Mr. Rabe, Chairman of the Safety Zone Committee, by staff members, upon the occasion of his departure for German. February 21, 1938. In the pictures can be seen Mr. Magee, Mr. Sperling (German), Dr. Rosen (German Embassy staff), Mr. Rabe, and Mr. Paul Scharffenberg (German Embassy staff who died in Nanking on June 19, 1938).” Ernest Forster, the photographer, was an American Episcopal missionary who stayed in Nanjing during the Japanese occupation, 1937-1938. Title: Farewell tea for John Rabe, Chairman of Safety Zone Committee, Nanjing, China,1938
Collection: International Mission Photography Archive, ca.1860-ca.1960. Owning Institution: University of Southern California Digital Library. Source: Calisphere, Date of access: March 9, 2021, 11:58. Permalink:
FAQ Passport History
Passport collection, passport renewal, old passports for sale, vintage passport, emergency passport renewal, same day passport, passport application, pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट

1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...