The un­for­get­table sanc­tu­ary

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

spend­ing 11 years in Shang­hai.

“Our fa­ther loved it here. The Chi­nese peo­ple were very good to him,” said Julie.

The Klinger and the Mos­berg fam­i­lies had fled from Vi­enna in 1938 when Ger­man forces took over Aus­tria. Like many refugees, they had to start their lives all over again and make a liv­ing in an econ­omy that had been par­a­lyzed by war.

The Klingers ran a res­tau­rant while the Mos­bergs set up a Vi­en­nese cof­fee house called Zum Weis­sen Ross’l (mean­ing The White Horse Inn) in Hongkou dis­trict where most of the refugees lived. Carol Dorr, Ron Klinger’s younger sis­ter, said that they had named the cof­fee house af­ter a fa­mous Aus­trian op­eretta as the Mos­bergs were from Aus­tria.

“I think they con­sid­ered it a place where peo­ple could feel at home while din­ing on Euro­pean food. There were also a lot of mu­si­cians in the Jewish com­mu­nity who played here too,” said Dorr.

De­spite the war, the refugees nev­er­the­less man­aged to cre­ate a small eco­nomic boom in Hongkou. They trans­formed the war-torn area into a Euro­pean-styled neigh­bor­hood which gained the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing “Lit­tle Vi­enna”, ac­cord­ing to David Kran­zler’s book Ja­panese, Nazis & Jews: the Jewish Refugee Com­mu­nity of Shang­hai.

And at the cen­ter of this bustling dis­trict was The White Horse Inn, a café and res­tau­rant by day, a bar and night­club by night. It was pop­u­lar with ev­ery­one, not just the Jews. Klinger re­called that there was even a singer who belted out songs in Ger­man.

The cof­fee house also be­came the place where Her­mann Klinger and Herta Mos­berg, who worked as a wait­ress there, met. Though it wasn’t quite a love-at-first-sight af­fair, they even­tu­ally fell in love and got mar­ried in Fe­bru­ary 1941. Nine months later, Ron Klinger was born.

The Jewish ex­o­dus

Af­ter as­sum­ing power in 1933, Hitler in­tro­duced his an­tiSemitic poli­cies, a cen­tral tenet of Nazi ide­ol­ogy that served to alien­ate Jews and drive them out of Ger­many via hun­dreds of re­stric­tive reg­u­la­tions.

The sit­u­a­tion ex­ac­er­bated in March 1938 when Ger­many an­nexed Aus­tria, home to al­most 200,000 Jews at that time. A few months later on Novem­ber 9, an es­ca­la­tion of anti-Semitic sen­ti­ment cul­mi­nated in the de­struc­tion of Jewish shops and syn­a­gogues in Ger­many and Aus­tria. The in­ci­dent was dubbed “Kristall­nacht”, or the “Night of Bro­ken Glass.”

In or­der to es­cape the Nazi regime, Jews had to sub­mit proof of em­i­gra­tion such as an en­try visa or a ship ticket. As most of the par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions at the Evian Con­fer­ence in July 1938 had re­fused to in­crease their immigration quo­tas, Shang­hai — which re­quired no en­try doc­u­ments at that time — be­came the only des­ti­na­tion left for flee­ing Jews.

“When the doors of the most en­light­ened na­tions in the world were closed to the Jews, only one safe haven was open, and that was Shang­hai,” said Arnon Perl­man, Is­raeli con­sulgen­eral in Shang­hai.

But the Jews who made it to Shang­hai soon dis­cov­ered that their woes were far from over.

Short lived peace

In Fe­bru­ary 1943, the Ja­panese Im­pe­rial Army — which had since 1937 oc­cu­pied Shang­hai fol­low­ing the three­month long Bat­tle of Songhu — or­dered all state­less refugees who came af­ter 1937 to move into a con­fined area in Hongkou mea­sur­ing less than 2.5 square kilo­me­ters.

The Jews were crammed into the Des­ig­nated Area for State­less Refugees, also known as “The Ghetto”. Strict cur­fews were im­ple­mented and peo­ple needed to ob­tain a pass in or­der to go to work or to see a doc­tor.

“I re­mem­ber I was al­ways hun­gry,” said Eve­lyn Pike Ru­bin, an 85-year-old au­thor and lec­turer cur­rently liv­ing in New York. She es­caped from Ger­many to Shang­hai in 1939.

Though the Chi­nese had to en­dure the hard­ships of war at that time as well, the Klingers said that they never en­coun­tered any hos­til­ity from them.

“The Jews lived in the same neigh­bor­hood with the Chi­nese in Hongkou, shar­ing ev­ery­thing. They shared the hap­pi­ness, the good times and the bad times,” said Perl­man. “It’s very easy to be friends when ev­ery­thing is good, very hard to make friends when times are dif­fi­cult. That is why the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Chi­nese and the Jews, which was forged dur­ing the hard­est times, can be con­sid­ered true friend­ship.”

This des­ig­nated area was abol­ished on Septem­ber 3, 1945. Af­ter the war, the Jews grad­u­ally left Shang­hai, head­ing to coun­tries in­clud­ing the United States, Aus­tralia, Canada and Is­rael.

Ron Klinger moved to Aus­tralia in 1946 with his par­ents. His grand­par­ents kept the café un­til 1949 when they headed to Aus­tralia too.

“The sec­ond World War was a ter­ri­ble time. The story of our fam­ily is just one among mil­lions,” said Klinger.

“But we were lucky. Our story had a happy end­ing, thanks to Shang­hai.”


Ron Klinger (left), grand­son of Ru­dolf Mos­berg, and his wife Suzie at the doorstep of the new White Horse Inn.


Old photos of the White Horse Inn dur­ing World War II.

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