Shang­hai show­cases role sav­ing Jews dur­ing WWII


Main­land China is heav­ily pro­mot­ing its role shel­ter­ing Euro­pean Jews from the Nazis as part of its com­mem­o­ra­tions for the 70th an­niver­sary of vic­tory over Ja­pan, which will cul­mi­nate in a huge mil­i­tary pa­rade.

As the “port of last re­sort,” China’s com­mer­cial hub pro­vided a home to tens of thou­sands of Jewish refugees who fled per­se­cu­tion in Europe dur­ing the 1930s and 1940s.

Nazi Ger­many’s wartime ally Ja­pan took the city in 1941, and later moved 20,000 Jews into a “des­ig­nated area” — called a ghetto by some — in the north­ern dis­trict of Hongkou, where they lived along­side Chi­nese res­i­dents.

De­spite cramped liv­ing con­di­tions and mis­treat­ment by the Ja­panese author­i­ties, they were spared sys­tem­atic ex­ter­mi­na­tion, in de­fi­ance of re­quests from Ber­lin.

“Shang­hai saved our lives,” for­mer Jewish refugee Judy Kolb, who lived in the ghetto as a child, told AFP.

A new ex­hi­bi­tion launches this week at a mu­seum ded­i­cated to Jewish refugees, along with a recre­ation of a his­toric cafe, and next month a mu­si­cal, “Jews in Shang­hai,” and a me­mo­rial park will open.

“Shang­hai was the only city for­eign­ers could get into with­out visas, even with­out pass­ports — the only city that opened the door,” said Pan Guang, dean of the Cen­ter of Jewish Stud­ies in Shang­hai.

The nar­ra­tive ap­peals to Shang- hai author­i­ties as the me­trop­o­lis seeks to make it­self into its vi­sion of an “in­ter­na­tional city” and given main­land China’s tense ties with Ja­pan, which Bei­jing views as in­suf­fi­ciently con­trite for its wartime atroc­i­ties.

“The Jewish refugee story is a nat­u­ral choice for this kind of com­mem­o­ra­tion, as it has many ‘feel good’ el­e­ments, in­clud­ing over­com­ing hard­ship, and friend­ship be­tween Chi­nese and for­eign­ers,” Doug Young, a pro­fes­sor of jour­nal­ism at Fu­dan Univer­sity, wrote in the Shang­hai Daily news­pa­per.

Shang­hai’s events fall around a gi­ant mil­i­tary pa­rade in the cap­i­tal on Sept. 3, ex­pected to be at­tended by Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin but few other ma­jor world lead­ers, to mark the end of what Bei­jing calls the “Chi­nese Peo­ple’s War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion and the World Anti-Fas­cist War.”

The show of strength comes as Bei­jing acts more as­sertively in the re­gion.

But at the time main­land China’s rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party was largely an un­der­ground move­ment, and it had lit­tle in­volve­ment with Jewish set­tle­ment in Shang­hai.

Be­fore the Ja­panese takeover, the city was com­posed of the Bri­tish­dom­i­nated In­ter­na­tional Set­tle­ment and the French Con­ces­sion, while the Chi­nese area was ad­min­is­tered by the Kuom­intang (KMT) — the Com­mu­nists’ hated en­e­mies.

Feng Shan Ho, China’s KMT-ap­pointed con­sul gen­eral in Vi­enna on the eve of World War II, is cred­ited with of­fer­ing refuge to sev­eral thou­sand Jews by is­su­ing visas which al­lowed them to leave Aus­tria.

“He sat in the cof­fee­house next to the con­sulate, asked Jewish peo­ple to come and is­sued visas. These peo­ple didn’t need a visa to come to Shang­hai, but he is­sued visas for these peo­ple to es­cape,” said Pan, of Shang­hai’s Cen­ter of Jewish Stud­ies.

Ho fled to Tai­wan when the KMT lost China’s civil war to Mao Ze­dong’s forces in 1949.

The World Jewish Congress, which rep­re­sents Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in 100 coun­tries, has an­nounced it will host an event with the main­land Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to mark the lib­er­a­tion of the Shang­hai ghetto.

The Shang­hai Jewish Refugees Mu­seum — which in­cludes a for­mer syn­a­gogue — plans to ap­ply to United Na­tions cul­tural agency UNESCO for its col­lec­tion to be des­ig­nated as part of the “Mem­ory of the World” pro­gram, which seeks to pre­serve doc­u­men­tary her­itage.

Its new ex­hibit opens on Wed­nes­day and will in­clude his­tor­i­cal ma­te­ri­als and oral tes­ti­mony from for­mer refugees, said Chen Jian, the mu­seum’s cu­ra­tor.

The White Horse Inn, which was a gath­er­ing place for the Jewish com­mu­nity, is be­ing re­built nearby af­ter the city de­mol­ished the orig­i­nal build­ing in 2009 to make way for road widen­ing. “It was a pop­u­lar place for them to get to­gether,” Chen said.

Sim­i­larly the 300-square-me­ter me­mo­rial park due to open next month will serve to re­place four for- mer Jewish ceme­ter­ies in Shang­hai — all now gone, some de­stroyed dur­ing the chaotic 1966-1976 Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion.

A new mu­si­cal, “Jews in Shang­hai” about the love be­tween a Jewish man and a Chi­nese woman will also have its pre­miere in Septem­ber, state media re­ported.

Pan, also a pro­fes­sor of the Shang­hai Academy of So­cial Sciences, has hopes for an even big­ger cul­tural im­pact, along the lines of Steven Spiel­berg’s multi- Os­car­win­ning 1993 film about a Ger­man busi­ness­man who res­cues Jews.

“I have five scripts on my ta­ble, but I don’t think they are good. Al­ways about love ... or some ac­tion movie,” Pan told a seminar. “We want some­thing like ‘Schindler’s List’.”

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