To Shanghai With Love
This essay will be published in To Shangahi with Love - ThingsAsian Press.
"When everything seemed hopeless, there was an open door. I don't want anyone to forget where that door was. That is why the story needs to be told. Soon there won't be anyone around to remember how we survived against all odds." Shanghai Refugee
"To Shanghai with Love"
By Jan Polatschek and Cheng Na Dai (Daisy)
The Goldstaub Family loves Shanghai. The Blumenthal Family loves Shanghai. The Rossback and Zysman and Rosenfeld Families love Shanghai. These European Jewish families along with thousands of others owe their lives to the government of China and to the people of Shanghai. When they visit China, they come to Shanghai with love.
The first Jews to travel to China emigrated from the Middle East. They were merchants of the Silk Road and settled in Kaifeng, Henan Province. In the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century, Jews emigrated from Russia to Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, and built a prosperous community that contributed to the general welfare of the city.
The restored Harbin New Synagogue is now an art gallery and museum. The museum section displays furnishings and photographs of the thriving Jewish presence in that city. (I could swear that several of the women and men in the photos looked like my and Aunt Sue and Uncle Harry.) The Huangshan Jewish Cemetery, with over 600 graves, is the largest in the Far East. In the Daoliqu area, wall plaques are posted in appreciation of the influential Jewish businesses.
I also found plaques in Shanghai. These plaques honor the memory of the Jewish community that found sanctuary in the Hongkou District during the years of the Holocaust in Europe. I discovered the plaques as I wandered around the neighborhood near the Ohel Moshe Synagogue. At the synagogue, my guide Daisy explained the remarkable story of Dr. Ho Fengshan.
As the Chinese Consul General in Vienna, Dr. Ho Fengshan witnessed the persecution of the Jews after the German invasion in 1938. Dr. Ho decided to issue thousands of life-saving visas. Twenty-five thousand refugees found safe haven in Shanghai. They built businesses, formed associations, celebrated their holidays and contributed to the daily life of the city.
When the Japanese controlled Shanghai, Jews were forced into an area around the Ohel Moshe Synagogue. The synagogue opened in 1927, and it is now a museum called the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Memorial. I work as a guide there during my holiday from university.
I was pleased to accompany my American guest, Jan Polatschek, and explain the history of the building and the surrounding grounds. I also pointed out the photos and charts that illustrate the stories of the families who found shelter and worshipped here.
I love my part-time job. I always feel proud to inform our visitors about the important historical events of my city and especially the role of the synagogue during the tumultuous events of the past century. I also love my job because I learn as much from my guests as they learn from me. Jan was a great teacher.
After my delightful and informative tour of the Ohel Moshe buildings and grounds, I wandered once again along Zhoushan Road, the busy street of the Hongkou district. At one of the many small, family-owned clothing shops (never any price tags) I bargained hard and left with three handsome shirts. I strolled through the Huoshan Park. I found a Chinese restaurant that was originally owned by a Jewish family - the Wiener Café Restaurant and Delikat. Finally I thought about the Chinese citizens of Shanghai. And I thought about the Jewish immigrants.
What are the humanitarian attitudes and sensibilities of a people who welcome and support and honor foreigners fleeing from pogroms and persecution? Surely the story of Dr. Ho and the municipal authorities of Shanghai needs to be told and retold.
What are the attributes of a people who arrive in a city, penniless and frightened, yet manage to renew their lives and succeed? Ehud Olmert's parents were born in Harbin. The late David Zysman was the president of Yeshiva University in New York. Michael Blumenthal, raised in Shanghai, was Secretary of the Treasury in the Carter administration Now almost 90, Eric Goldstaub is a successful businessman in Toronto. He recalls the people of Shanghai "with the greatest respect."
There's a lot to love in Shanghai. I love the cheerful shirt shops and the noisy produce markets. I love the dim sum restaurants. And I love the streets and boulevards where I find plaques and parks, and people who welcome me, even as they have always welcomed my own People to their gracious city.
Eric Goldstaub http://www.cccgt.org/2001/Jews_in_Shanghai/clippings.html
Michael Blumenthal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Michael_Blumenthal
Chengna Dai (Daisy), a native of Jiangsu Province, studied Information Management at Shanghai University. She worked as a volunteer guide at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. Daisy explains, “I was touched after reading about the history of the Jewish people in Shanghai . I tell my visitors that our museum is small but special. It is a happy place that tells the story of how one Chinese diplomat and the local Shanghai population provided a safe home for 25,000 Jews during World War II.”
My friend Paul Rockower also wrote an excellent article on the history of the Jews in Shanghai: