Recently, I finished reading Marcia R. Ristaino’s book The Jacquinot Safe Zone: Wartime Refugees in Shanghai (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2008, xviii-206 pp.). Fascinating and inspiring! As a French Jesuit missionary in Shanghai, Robert Jacquinot de Besange was confronted with flows of refugees when the Japanese military forces attacked this city in 1937. He managed to negotiate and construct a safe zones for refugees and in doing so saved thousands of life. His efforts are mentioned as a founding example in the Protocols and Commentaries to the Geneva Convention of 1949. Ristaino describes the life of Fr. Jacquinot as well as the efforts and circumstances involved in the setting up of Jacquinot safe zones for refugees during the brutal Sino-Japanese war. The book is highly readable, although I personally would have liked more details about Fr. Jacquinot himself, his motivations and inner experiences during these difficult years.
Jacquinot was an unknown to me – and even in the context of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) I never picked up his name of the story of the refugee safe zones: a great Jesuit and human being, hidden in the folds of history, forgotten as usually are forgotten the refugees and victims of violent wars to whom he dedicated the best of his energies.