The unforgettable sanctuary
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.