Rudolf Zindel and the Red Cross in Hong Kong

In February 1947 Hong Kong Red Cross Delegate Rudolf Zindel received a request for a description of any ‘outstanding experiences’ that he and his co-workers had had during the war. A ‘General Report’ of Red Cross work was being prepared, and it seems the compilers were looking for anecdotes to enliven its pages.

Zindel, who had served the International Committee of the Red Cross from late June 1942 until early in 1946, referred the requester to a ‘Supplementary Report’ he’d already sent back to Geneva, but then went on to provide over two pages of reflections that form a moving account of his work under impossible conditions, and a terrible indictment of the ingratitude and misrepresentation of some of those who he’d risked his life to help.

Unfortunately some of the most commonly used sources for the occupation – such as Emily Hahn’s China To Me and Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke’s Footprints – perpetuate the myth of a Zindel too terrified to carry out his work properly – so I’m putting a substantial chunk of this letter online.[1]

I provide a few notes in ((double brackets)).

When I look back on my own activities in Hong Kong, from June 1942 to the arrival of the Allied Liberation Forces on 30th August 1945, it seems a miracle that the Delegation should have found it possible to carry on its extensive work without ever getting into serious trouble with the Japanese. I attribute this achievement to the fact that I deliberately and firmly avoided being drawn into underground-activities of any kind, with the result that, inspite ((sic)) of denunciations of my person to the Japanese Gendarmerie, and inspite of constant suspicion and supervision on the part of the Japanese, I could surmount several critical periods by maintaining a calm attitude thanks to my “good conscience”. ((In the wake of the arrest Selwyn-Clarke and other British personnel in May 1943 Zindel was told by the Japanese he was one ‘offence’ away from being taken himself. He managed to stay out of prison by pre-emptive visits to senior Japanese officials but at the end of the war he was on a list of eleven ‘Europeans’ facing arrest.)) At the same time it is also true that many risks were taken by myself, beyond what was required of me as Delegate of the I.C.R.C., and in view of the fact that I never received a written acknowledgement from the British or American authorities in Hongkong concerning my Red Cross work, I believe it would be a mistake were I to remain silent regarding my personal contribution (apart from my duties as Delegate), towards the maintenance of the activities of the Hongkong Delegation at a time when British, American and Delegation funds were held up in Tokyo, ((Spring 1943)) and at other times when the funds at the disposal  of the Delegation proved inadequate.

((Zindel goes on to explain how he saved almost M.Y. 2 million by raising money on the black market against the promise to repay the loan in Swiss Francs after the war, thus getting an exchange rate of about 21 SF = 1 M.Y. – much higher than the official rate of roughly 1 SF = 1 M.Y. – for the funds sent to him by Geneva.))

In raising money locally, I contravened Japanese regulations and thereby exposed myself to a considerable risk ((including death)); for this reason , and so as not to compromise your committee ((the I.C. R.C.)), I raised the money in my own name, using as backing for my Promissory-Notes, payable after the conclusion of the war, personal resources I had in Switzerland and the U.S.A.  This procedure involved the risk that, under certain circumstances, I, or my heirs, might not be able to recover from your Committee the commitments entered into by me personally for the benefit of the British, American and Delegation interests….

((Zindel mentions the establishment of the Rosary Hill Red Cross Home in Autumn 1943 and the operation of the Red Cross unit in the French Hospital; at their height these two organisations cared for about 750 women, children, sick and elderly – all dependants of the prisoners of war and the internees.))

You may also wish to refer to the fact that our Delegation with the help of its connections, manufactured substantial quantities of Fish-Liver-Oil and Peanut-Butter for the Camps, and was instrumental in arranging delivery to Hongkong of large quantities of Wheat-Bran, which proved most valuable to the Camps in the absence of Vitamin Drugs on the Hongkong market.

Through personal influence, I also succeeded in obtaining an overdraft of M.Y. 1.000.000 from the Yokohama Specie Bank, which was used entirely for British relief and was repaid very advantageously after the arrival of the British Liberation Forces…

On the activities of your Hongkong Delegation alone, volumes could be written, and a little more publicity on our achievements might have done some good, because we find that quite a number of people here have received a commendation, whereas the work performed by the I.C.R.C. seems to be taken for granted; the public does not seem to realize the tremendous efforts, often far beyond what could be reasonably have been expected, which have been made by myself and my collaborators to meet our difficult tasks….[2]

In this document Zindel does not mention many aspects of the work of the Red Cross Delegation: inspecting the Camps, paying small ‘pocket money allowances’ to the internees, answering requests for information from friends and relatives back home, equipping the schools in Stanley Camp, sending out messages for the prisoners, providing unofficial relief for people who fell through the gaps like Eurasians (another risky activity), receiving, storing and distributing ‘comfort parcels’…The list could be continued.

In return for risking imprisonment, torture and death – not to mention financial ruin – to keep these Red Cross relief services operating, Rudolf Zindel was given the nickname ‘Mr. Swindle’, which was sometimes used to his face on his visits to Stanley.[3]



[1]Happily Geoffrey Emerson in the preface to the book version of his thesis on Stanley has shown a much better appreciation for Zindel’s contribution and I acknowledge his influence in stirring my interest in this subject:

[2] General Letter No. 48/47, 22 March 1947 in Archives of the International Red Cross, Geneva (incomplete reference to prevent plagiarism),

[3] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 133.


1 Comment

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One response to “Rudolf Zindel and the Red Cross in Hong Kong

  1. Les Bowie

    Thank you, Brian, for this profile of Rudolf Zinedel, correcting the unpleasant characterization of his work through the occupation years. As one of his many services, he provided my mother, Barabara Parkin (how she was known in Camp Stanley), with documentation regarding her the death of her husband, William Parkin, during the invasion. I also remember two distributions to Internees of foodstuffs provided by the Red Cross.

    I am most impressed by the depth, breadth, and diligence of your research. Thank you again.

    Les Bowie (Parkin, Shatokin)


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