NACS 8th Biennial Conference in Stockholm, June 11-13, 2007







The Good Dane in Nanjing 1937.


by Hans J. Hinrup,

Senior Advisor, State and University Library, Aarhus, Denmark


With the Marco Polo Bridge Incident July 7th 1937, the Japanese invaded China, - targeting Beijing, Shanghai, and ultimately Nanjing, the capital of China.

In December 1937, the Japanese were marching on Nanjing. Nanjing fell, and the Japanese entered the town on the 13th of December. The Rape of Nanjing began.

The incidents and the arithmetics on exact numbers of killings need not be mentioned here. A whole corpus of books and counterclaims, as well as the ongoing dispute on the matter between Japan and China centering on an excuse and on the Yasukuni Shrine is well known. A short list of books is affixed to the printed version of this paper.


In May 2000 a Chinese exhibition on the massacre was opened at the Town Hall in Aarhus. A part of the exhibition was dedicated to an unknown Dane, who had helped many Chinese. Only his name –  Mr. Xin / Sindberg – was known. The Chinese Embassy asked for help in finding information about this man. The local newspaper relayed the query,[1] - and within a few days he was found![2] His sister lived in Aarhus, and her daughter held many letters and photographs from Bernhard Arp Sindberg. The Good Dane in Nanjing.[3]


Bernhard Sindberg was born in Aarhus February 19th 1911. He was a restless young man, set for action and independence. At the age of seventeen he furtively left his family and went to California, but after three years his lust for adventure led him to Algeria to enter the French Foreign Legion. This was in 1931. He soon realized his gross mistake, and escaped onto a ship back to the States. He roamed a bit, and eventually came to China.

This is where we meet him in April 1934, - after a brawl onboard his ship M/S Falstria [4]. He arrived locked up in the ships detention and with handcuffs on. The Consular Court reports, that he may be a rowdy, but that they still have a good impression of him, and that conditions on ship were bad. The Norwegian minister to seamen vouched for him. He knew him of earlier, in Buenos Aires.

Sindberg was given a 4 months prison term on probation, but had to stay in prison until the ship had left. Fourteen days he spent in the gaol in Amoy Road.


China and Shanghai seems to have spurred the spirits of the 23 year old Sindberg. But he had to gain a foothold. It was not easy for him, with his fiery temper.

First he was in the reception at the noble Cathay Hotel on the Bund (now Peace Hotel). This lasted two months only. He was dismissed on the grounds that he had complained over the food and incited unrest among the other employees.[5]

Next he was employed by the engineer Bergsøe in his factory. Also here he was dismissed. This time for harassing a German worker.

Then in 1935 he worked at the Danish-owned Shanghai Milk Supply, but after a vacation in Denmark,  his position was occupied on return to Shanghai.


Sindberg was in a position similar to many young men in Shanghai at the time, especially the less educated or regimented. If a young man arrived in Shanghai with a position in hand in one of the established companies, small or big, he might enjoy a fairly privileged position, but if he just came for the adventure, or happened to stay there when passing by, then he had a big risk of ending up in the lower white strata, with a fluctuating income, easily failing, and sending him down the social ladder.


It was therefore a bit of a lucky stroke when he was asked by the Danish company Nielsen & Winther to demonstrate Danish weapons to the government in Nanjing.


As early as January 2nd 1930 the Shanghai-based firm Eickhoff applied at the Danish Consulate to become an agency for the firm The Danish Rifle Syndicate (Dansk Rekylriffel Syndikat),[6] but the agency  was carried by the firm Nielsen & Winther [Shanghai Wende Gongju], when it was established in Shanghai April 1st 1931.

In August-September 1934 the company, represented by Erik Nyholm, corresponded with the Danish Foreign Ministry on a weapons-export to China. The firm had recently signed contracts on building aerodromes in Nanchang, and as the Chinese stock of aircrafts  was being reorganized  by the Italian military advisor, General Roberto Lordi, (this was long before Italy signed the anti-comintern pact November 6th 1937) it was within reach to get orders for the Danish Madsen light automatic rifle, - actually an order of 100 pieces had already been received. In the same period a Chinese military delegation was in Denmark[7], - but the Danish government was reluctant to allow weapon export, - as it already had informed the Chinese government May 1934. November 8th the position was reiterated, not least because of Japanese objections.[8] The matter however had moved. The company had felt obliged to supply the weapons as it otherwise would have dire implications in regard to the other contracts of building hangars etc., so in January 1935 they informed the Foreign Ministry, that they had found a Belgian firm willing to deliver. And furthermore: They were to demonstrate the weapons in China.  The Danish Foreign Ministry again stated their refusal of giving the export license, this time with reference to a declaration from The League of Nations. The Danish embassy in China was less adamant, on the grounds that the weapons would be supplied anyway, so why not let Danish firms get the contract. But this was of no avail. So when a contract was signed in April 1935 between the Republic, represented by Finance Minister H. H. Kung and The Danish Rifle Syndicate, represented by Svend Nyholm, subject to a Danish license, it came to naught. But the weapons were delivered, - probably from Belgium. It amounted to 25 sets of Twin Madsen Observers machine Guns, 50 sets of Madsen machine guns for observers for use below the fuselage, - everything with spare parts etc.

Things however moved slowly. Erik Nyholm was given "Power of Attorney" on September 3rd 1936 to sell the weapons, using the firm name "Compagnie Madsen Ltd.",[9] but not till early 1937 did the weapons reach Shanghai and Nanjing.

This was when Bernhard Sindberg was hired to demonstrate their efficiency. Together with him another Dane comes into focus, this was Jørgen Juncker-Jensen, like Sindberg out of job, a bit of a wanderer, but with an extremely high self-esteem, as witnessed in his autobiography.[10] They were together in Nanjing, but their teamwork was less than easy , and after their last demonstration on the 20th of May, where they fired machineguns and antiaircraft guns, some of them mounted on the Danish motorcycle Nimbus[11], Juncker-Jensen quit and was off again. A few weeks later also Sindberg had to leave Nanjing, apparently because he had incurred a fine, he couldn't pay.


Again Sindberg was without a job, coinciding with the Japanese attack on China. On July 24th 1937, Sindberg entered the Shanghai Volunteer Corps, which was made up of many other foreigners, with the aim to ward off Shanghai’s involvement in the war. Sindberg became a spectator to the fierce Battle of Shanghai, which was to last for three months. With the Japanese closing in on Shanghai, the British journalist Philip Pembroke Stevens of the London Daily Telegraph hired Sindberg as a driver. Like other war correspondents, the British journalist toured the war zone sending immediate reports home on developments. On what was to become the last day of the siege, November 11th 1937, Pembroke Stevens, and Sindberg and others were watching the fighting from atop a water tower in the French Concession. They were gunned by a Japanese plane, and Pembroke Stevens was shot dead.[12]


One of the following days, Sindberg was approached by F. L. Smidth & Co. a large Danish Cement Factory Construction Company.

F. L. Smidth & Co. Ltd. had opened their branch in Shanghai in 1931. The company had a fair business the following years, including an agreement of July 17th 1934 with the Shanghai Portland Cement Works on the delivery of grinding machinery.[13] When Shanghai was attacked by Japan in 1937, many factories were hit, and the Shanghai Portland Cement Works with an investment of 2 million Chinese $ in machinery was seriously damaged.[14] With this experience in mind, F. L. Smidth hired Sindberg to protect their unfinished Jiangnan Cement Factory at Qixiashan outside Nanjing. According to Sindberg the factory would be the biggest in Asia, and the second biggest in the world.[15]

With the Japanese troops marching on Nanjing and foreigners evacuating from the area, the unfinished factory was left unprotected. F. L. Smidth & Co. needed a watchman. From the company Nielsen & Winther the F. L. Smidth firm knew of Sindberg's many qualities as well as his recently acquired knowledge of the Nanjing area. They asked him to take on this rather risky job, and he accepted. A contract was set up on December 1st 1937, and Sindberg went to the factory, where he and the German engineer Karl Günther, were the two only foreigners. The factory was built by a Danish company, but the company had close ties with Germany, and the installed machinery was German, which must have been a decisive factor as to why the factory in the end was left unharmed.

On December 2nd 1937, the Consulate General of Denmark was updated by F. L. Smidth on the situation and was requested assistance to avoid confiscation by the Japanese. A  week later money was forwarded to Sindberg.


Unlike Shanghai, Nanjing fell without much resistance. The Japanese army entered the Chinese capital on December 13th 1937 and the Japanese atrocities began, known as the Rape of Nanjing with perhaps 300,000 casualties. It was as unleashing a pack of wild dogs. Looting, arson, rape, murder. Murder for the fun of it.


Fleeing people sought refuge in the cement factory and in the nearby Qixia temple hoping to be protected by the foreign presence. Several thousands gathered there over the next days and weeks. There was no large-scale murder or slaughtering, although Sindberg could not fully hinder the sexual abuses. Between December 14th 1937 and January 27th 1938, he recorded 26 cases of Japanese crimes, and delivered the report to the International Safety Committee in Nanjing, which itself collected a much larger count of Japanese atrocities. Together with the German engineer Sindberg held Japanese soldiers at bay, he resisted their entrance into the area, he hindered bombings by having a large Danish Flag painted on the rooftop, - and by visibly flaunting the Danish AND the German swastika flag he could ward off direct assaults by marauding groups of soldiers. To the best of his ability he fed and sheltered the fugitives.


In the beginning, Sindberg thought that conditions inside Nanjing were better than at the cement factory. On December 20th 1937 he tried to drive some of the wounded to Nanjing for treatment, but was forced to send them back. Three days later he went into Nanjing with a petition from 17.000 fugitives from his area, asking desperately for help. But no help was forthcoming. The following month brought no change. He was able to shelter the fugitives from death, but not from the cold and from hunger. He was able to go unmolested to Nanjing, and occasionally brought a little food with him to the Nanjing Safety Zone Committee.


In mid-February 1938 the Consulate General sent food and medicine to Sindberg, but the Japanese incursions were increasing, so he sought advice and reinforcement from F. L. Smidth and asked for instructions on how to react to Japanese approaches with regard to the factory. The answers received were clearly without understanding of the grave situation Sindberg faced. He was instructed not to let anyone try to start up the factory before arrangements had been made for a proper engineer from F. L. Smidth to come. Next he was ordered to abstain from displaying any knowledge whatsoever of the machinery. He was hired as a watch keeper, and he should keep that in mind. Finally, he was asked not to resort to force. This last part was in a later letter expanded in that he was instructed not to express any sympathies or antipathies, and foremost never to put such in writing, neither to the company nor in any other way. But such was not his temper.


By March 1937, the atrocities had calmed down "The Good German of Nanjing", John Rabe, a Siemens-man, had already left on February 23rd 1938. He had in Nanjing city done what Sindberg did at the cement plant.[16]

John Rabe (1882-1949) had headed an international committee, who had established a self-proclaimed "Safety Zone" within Nanjing. His diaries, published in 1997, show the day to day situation, and also in several places mention Sindberg.[17] This is a characteristic situation from January 28th 1938: "Yesterday Sindberg, the Dane from the cement factory, brought us another little pig, eggs, two ducks. Granted, he was arrested on the way here, but by subsidizing the sentries with a crate of beer he got through under the guard of three men and an officer." (p.210), and on February 3rd.: "Dr. Günther's report, passed on to us by Herr Sindberg of the Kiangnan Cement Factory, proves that it is not just Nanking that is suffering at the hands of the Japanese soldiery. The same reports are coming in from all sides about rapes, murder, and mayhem. One might be led to think that the entire criminal population of Japan is in uniform here." (p.226)


By March 1938 the situation for the Chinese refugees at the cement plant had improved. The cement plant was kept unharmed. But Sindberg had become a liability for F. L. Smidth. The Japanese would simply not tolerate him.


In the end, the Japanese pressure forced F. L. Smidth to recall Sindberg. There is no certain evidence of the course of events, but letters from Sindberg published on March 6th 1938 in the newspaper Aarhus Stiftstidende[18] leaves no doubt with regard to Japanese war crimes, and Sindbergs opinion. He writes: "On a trip like this [to Nanjing] you see destruction all around. All villages are torched. All cattle and poultry is taken. Wherever you look, lie the corpses of killed peasants and Chinese soldiers, serving as food for stray dogs and wild animals."


Sindberg was dismissed. He arrived in Shanghai on the 20th of March and was off on a ship to Denmark a month later.

As far as his abilities and the situation allowed, the 26-year old Sindberg had sheltered and saved the lives of thousands of fugitives. For this deed he later was honoured by the Chinese delegation to the League of Nations. Records of this event seem to have been forgotten, - but in 2000 he was 'found' again. His family have been invited to Nanjing, where there are plans of making special exhibits about him in "The Memorial Hall of the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre", and events on Sindberg have been well covered in the Chinese media.[19]


Bernhard Arp Sindberg died in California in 1983.


In Nanjing Sindberg is still remembered and honoured. Mr. Xin from Denmark.




Recent books on the Nanjing Massacre.



Brook, Timothy (ed.): Documents on the Rape of Nanjing. (Ann Arbor 1999)


Chang, Iris: The Rape of Nanking. The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. (N. Y. 1997)


Fogel, Joshua A. (ed.): The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography. (Berkeley 2000)


Higashinakano, Shudo: The Nanking Massacre. Fact versus Fiction. A Historian's Quest for the Truth. (Tokyo 2005)


Honda Katsuichi: The Nanjing Massacre. A Japanese Journalist Confronts Japan's National Shame. (Armonk 1998)


Hu, Hua-ling: American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking. The Courage of Minnie Vautrin. (Carbondale 2000)


Li, Feifei, Robert Sabella and David Liu (eds.): Nanking 1937. Memory and Healing. (Armonk 2002)


Lu, Suping: They were in Nanjing. The Nanjing Massacre Witnessed by American and British Nationals. (Hong Kong 2004)


Rose, Caroline: Sino-Japanese Relations. Facing the Past, Looking to the Future? (London 2005)


Shi Young, James Yin, Ron Dorfman: The Rape of Nanking. An Undeniable History in Photographs. 2. ed. (Chicago 1997)


Takemoto, Tadao and Ohara Yasuo: The Alleged "Nanking Massacre". Japan's Rebuttal to China's Forged Claims. (Tokyo 2000)


Tanaka, Masaaki: What Really Happened in Nanking. (Tokyo 2000)


Wickert, Erwin (ed.): The Good Man of Nanking. The Diaries of John Rabe. (N. Y. 1998)


Wickert, Erwin (Hrsg.): John Rabe. Der gute Deutsche von Nanking. (Stuttgart 1997)


Yamamoto, Masahiro: Nanking. Anatomy of an Atrocity. (Westport 2000)


Yoshida, Takashi: The Making of the 'Rape of Nanking'. History and Memory in Japan, China, and the United States. (Oxford 2006)


Zhang, Kaiyuan (ed.): Eyewitnesses to Massacre. American Missionaries Bear Witness to Japanese Atrocities in Nanjing. (Armonk 2001)

[1] Aarhus Stiftstidende 6 May  2000, 1.del, p.2

[2] Aarhus Stiftstidende, 14 May 2000, 2.del, p.9

[3] The author gratefully thanks Mariann Andersen Stenvig for giving access to this material.

[4] Rigsarkivet (RA), Foreign Ministry. Consular Archives. Shanghai. No.02-2035, 27.P.a.50: "Sømand Bernhard Arp Sindberg on board m/s "Falstria". Assault (Opsætsighed og vold mod skibsofficer).

[5] RA no.02-2035, 27.P.a.71: Juncker Jensen vs. B. A. Sindberg, Assault.

[6] RA, no.02-2035, 13.R.4: "Dansk Riffelsyndikat." Also the Danish firm Andersen, Meyer & Co., and the Canton-based firm Hall & Wong were bidding for the agency.

[7] Politiken, 28 August 1934, p.8

[8] RA, no.02-2035, 13.R.4: "Dansk Riffelsyndikat."

[9] RA, no.02-2035, 65.K.56: "Kompagnie Madsen a/s"

[10] Jørgen Juncker-Jensen: "Facts & Episodes of my life." (Copenhagen 1983) 332 pp.

[11] Allan Kløve Nyborg: "Nimbus og danske rekylgeværer i 30ernes Kina" (Nimbus Tidende, February 2000, no.110) available on

[12] Aarhus Stiftstidende, 12 November 1937, front page and p.5

[13] Shanghai, Municipal Archives, No.Q414-1-338: "F. L. Smidth"

[14] Norman D. Hanwell: Shanghai's Worst Crisis. (in Far Eastern Survey, Vol.7, No.15, July 27, 1938, pp.167-171)

[15] Aarhus Stiftstidende 6 March 1938, p.8

[16] Wickert, Erwin (ed.): The Good German of Nanking. The Diaries of John Rabe. (N. Y. 1998) 294 pp.

Wickert, Erwin (Hrsg.): John Rabe. Der gute Deutsche von Nanking. (Stuttgart 1997) 443 pp.

[17] "The Good German of Nanking" pp.110f, 119, 199,  210, 226, 233, and 245

[18] Aarhus Stiftstidende 6 March 1938, front page and p.8: "Det største dannebrog i Kina vajer ved Nanking".

[19] F.ex. China Youth Daily 18 September 2001; China Daily 10 June 2003, Nanjing Daily 14 and 26 April 2006, and China Daily  27 April 2006.