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Saved by Shanghai-by Kenneth Lubowich

Time:2014-09-16 21:24 Source:未知 Writer:cjss read:
                                                                      Saved by Shanghai
                                                                        by Kenneth Lubowich

 On a recent rain-soaked Shanghai morning, an unveiling ceremony took place at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. The museum, housed at the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue, is located in what once was the refugee section of WW II Shanghai. Shanghai government officials, representatives of various foreign governments, students and scholars of Jewish studies, as well as a few Shanghailanders (Jews who lived in Shanghai during WWII) were in attendance. They watched the unveiling of a bronze sculpture inscribed with 13,732 names to commemorate the Jews who survived the Holocaust by taking refuge in Shanghai. Conspicuously absent were representatives from the Japanese government, which is interesting since the German government officials were present and even gave one of the speeches. The German speech was a fascinating balancing act which walked the fine line between respecting and supporting the need to remember the history while not apologizing for the atrocities and subtly trying to separate the Nazis from Germans. The Japanese government’s decision to skip the unveiling was no great surprise. Not only did Chinese officials talk about the triumph of the Chinese people in the "anti-Japanese war," but the ceremony itself took place on the anniversary of the Chinese victory over the Japanese. The significance of the date, lest anyone forget, was mentioned by several of the Chinese speakers. Anti-Japanese feelings remain quite strong in China for both past and present reasons. For the Jewish Shanghailanders the sentiments towards the Japanese are much more complex. While the Japanese were stern overlords and produced edicts that made Chinese and Jewish lives in Shanghai more difficult, the Jews have not forgotten that the Japanese government chose to ignore German requests that Jews be treated in the same way which they were being treated in Germany. The sculpture received financial support from both the German government and the Florence and Laurence Spungen Family Foundation. Danny Spungen, whose speech on behalf of his family's foundation, poignantly remarked, "The word ‘Home’ should not be taken lightly. ‘Home’ is place of comfort, safety and peace. We can draw the same comparisons to Shanghai during WWII. Shanghai became home to about 18,000 Jewish refugees. OK, ‘home’ back then was not very ‘comfortable’ but their Shanghai homes offered a sense of safety and peace. Today the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum teaches that Shanghai during WWII was being used as a ‘safe haven’ or a ‘shelter’ for the Jewish people. There is no doubt that if the refugees did not find refuge in Shanghai, many of them would have lost their lives." Sonja Mühlberger, born in Shanghai and now residing in Germany, helped compile the names for the wall. At the press conference for the unveiling she said, "This memorial wall is different from others which are lists of people who died. This memorial is a tribute to the people who survived. In fact, people like my parents and their friends at times were ashamed to be alive because most, if not all, of the people that they left behind had died." Sonja's father was taken to the concentration camp at Dachau, given the identifying number 30176 and prepared himself for a lengthy imprisonment. Amazingly, though, he spent only four weeks there. At the time Germany wanted to get rid of the Jews and take their possessions. One of their relatives, a journalist in Amsterdam, sent her parents blank applications from the Chinese embassy to go to Shanghai. With only those forms and a promise to depart Germany and leave all their possessions behind, he was allowed to walk out of Dachau. In contrast to some German Jews who had become quite wealthy and acquired artwork, jewelry,and possessions of monetary value, Sonja’s parents were a young married couple and had very little. They had to borrow money from family members for the boat ticket to Shanghai. Once they got the money together, they still couldn’t travel because no tickets were available. Fortunately, Sonja's father had a classmate who worked for a travel company, and he was able to get them passage when another passenger cancelled his trip. Sonja’s parents left Germany in March of 1939. Their passports were stamped with a big "J," highlighting their status as Jews. Sonja was born in October, and was given a Shanghai birth certificate listing her name as "Baby Krips." Two months later she was registered as Sonja Krips. It is an unusual name, especially for a German Jew. Had her parents remained in Germany, the government would have required them to give her a Jewish-sounding name. One wonders if Sonja’s parents gave her this name only because they liked it or also because they had the freedom to choose. Perhaps, in a subtle way, they were protesting the German government's insidious interference in the lives of Jews. It is conceivable that Sonja’s love of names stems from having such an uncommon Jewish name herself. Whatever the reason, this made her the perfect person to help compile the list of names for the commemorative bronze sculpture. On August 24, 1947, when Sonja was eight years old, she and her family left Shanghai and returned to Germany. She believes her father wanted to go back in hopes of building a better and more democratic society. This was an unusual decision that was frowned upon by others in the refugee community. Sonja remembers being spat on because her family was going back to the country which had treated them so badly. As a survivor, Sonja feels that it is her responsibility to tell her story and the story of the other Jewish refugees of Shanghai. Sadly, the relative who got her parents their visa applications, those who gave them the money for the boat tickets, and the rest of her extended family members perished in the Holocaust. This included her cousin, Denny Herzfeld, who was born in Germany just a few months after she was born in Shanghai. Every Jew who came to Shanghai had his or her own story to tell, but many of the stories had common themes. People left home because of discrimination, persecution and pending disaster. They left behind family and friends, many(or even all) eventually were consumed by the Holocaust. They arrived in Shanghai with few worldly possessions, but with skills and knowledge from their previous existence, a belief that with hard work, persistence and faith they would survive, and the good fortune to be living in a place that would not exterminate them. They were grateful that Shanghai, unlike most other cities and countries around the world, allowed them entry and gave them a chance to live. So it was for Arno and Ellen Wischtinetzky. They each found their way to Shanghai, Arno from Lithuania and Ellen from Berlin. Then Arno and Ellen found each other. They were married in Shanghai on August 11, 1946 and left for Israel in 1949 before settling in the U.S. in 1954. “Where will we go?” was one of the most difficult questions a World War II-era European Jew could ask. The answer, for more than 18,000 men, women, and children,was “Shanghai.” It was not one of their options…it was their ONLY option. The rest of the world had turned its back on their suffering—but not Shanghai. Life was not easy for anyone, Chinese included, but at least it was a life. The refugees, many now gone after living full and productive lives, maintained a deep, enduring gratitude toward Shanghai. And they passed that legacy of gratitude on to their children, their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren. On Passover these families can tell not only the story of the Exodus from Egypt, but a personal story of Exodus, one of more recent vintage, where their family was saved from a turbulent sea by a lifeboat known as Shanghai.

(Author:cjss)