Film hon­ors Shang­hai as haven for WWII Jews

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By LI JING n New York li­jing2009@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity needs to know more about China’s con­tri­bu­tions and sac­ri­fices in the war against fas­cism, said China’s con­sul gen­eral in New York.

“Peo­ple in the world, in­clud­ing peo­ple here in New York, know about the history of World War II and the Holo­caust, while few know that more Euro­pean Jews had taken refuge in Shang­hai than in any other city in the world, when war broke out in 1939,” Zhang Qiyue, China’s con­sul gen­eral in New York, said at the screen­ing of the 2002 doc­u­men­tary film Shang­hai Ghetto at Cine­mas 123 in New York on Tues­day night. “The screen­ing of the film, as well as the ex­hi­bi­tion and books on the history will al­low peo­ple to know about the history.”

The film was shown to mark the 70th an­niver­sary of World War II’s end and or­ga­nized by the Amer­ica China Public Af­fairs In­sti­tute, an in­de­pen­dent re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion spe­cial­iz­ing in USChina af­fairs.

Zhang said that from 1933 to 1942, Shang­hai ac­cepted more than 30,000 Jewish refugees and hosted a large, vi­brant com­mu­nity flee­ing per­se­cu­tion in Europe.

“We re­mem­ber history to call for peace in the fu­ture,” Zhang said. “Re­la­tions be­tween the United States and China are the key to global sta­bil­ity, and to strengthen China-US re­la­tions and to foster good re­la­tions is to pre­serve peace and sta­bil­ity and to pre­serve pros­per­ity.”

In the late 1930s, Ger­man Jews were try­ing to es­cape Nazi per­se­cu­tion, but coun­try af­ter coun­try closed its doors to them. The only place in the world that didn’t re­quire en­trance visas was the in­ter­na­tional city of Shang­hai.

Most of them were re­lo­cated in an area of ap­prox­i­mately one square mile in the Hongkou dis­trict of Ja­panese-oc­cu­pied Shang­hai, known as the Re­stricted Sec­tor for State­less Refugees, or Shang­hai Ghetto.

Against odds such as lan­guage bar­ri­ers, poverty, ram­pant dis­ease and iso­la­tion, the refugees were able to make the tran­si­tion from be­ing sup­ported by wel­fare agen­cies to es­tab­lish­ing a func­tion­ing com­mu­nity.

Jewish cul­tural life flour­ished: Schools were es­tab­lished, news­pa­pers were pub­lished, the­aters pro­duced plays, and sports teams played.

“The fact that China was pleased with Jews and ac­cepted refugees at the time when Jews were not welcome any­where is very im­por­tant for China-Is­rael re­la­tions,” said Amir Sagie, deputy con­sul gen­eral of Is­rael in New York.

He said China was never anti-Semitic, nei­ther a cen­tury ago or in mod­ern times. “This is the fun­da­men­tal part of our re­la­tions with China, and we cher­ish very much the mem­o­ries,” Sagie said.

Seth Mitchell Siegel, an Amer­i­can writer and au­thor of LetThere Be Wa­ter: Is­rael’s So­lu­tion for a Wa­ter-Starved World, said he was aware of the history of Jewish refugees in Shang­hai be­cause some of his friends’ fam­i­lies lived there.

“The history sounds very ex­tra­or­di­nary,” Siegel said. “I think China is one of the great­est coun­tries in the world. It is an im­por­tant story to tell about how China ac­cepted and warmly wel­comed peo­ple who were in need,” he said.

The fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary, nar­rated by Academy Award-win­ner Martin Lan­dau, con­tains in­ter­views with sur­vivors and his­to­ri­ans, rare letters, stock footage, still photos and im­ages in mod­ern Shang­hai, where most of the Jewish ghetto re­mains un­changed.

The film tells of their re­la­tion­ships with the lo­cal Chi­nese and with the oc­cu­py­ing Ja­panese Army; the at­tempts of the Amer­i­can Jewish com­mu­nity to help the refugees, the rich cul­tural life they con­structed un­der great hard­ship, and the tragedy of their rel­a­tives who stayed be­hind in Europe.

LI JING / CHINA DAILY

Zhang Qiyue, China’s con­sul gen­eral (in red), at­tends screen­ing of at Cin­ema 123 in New York on Tues­day with (from left) Eric Yuan of the Amer­ica China Public Af­fairs In­sti­tute; Fred Teng, in­sti­tute pres­i­dent; Kerry Minchin; her hus­band Nick Minchin, Aus­tralia con­sul gen­eral in New York; and Alan Way of the in­sti­tute.

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