March 2019. I’ve got a great trivia question for you. Back in 1937 when the Nazi Party had begun their relentless persecution of the Jews, which city became the only world metropolis to accept Jewish people fleeing from the horrors of The Holocaust? Well, as you’ve almost certainly figured out from the name of this article, it is indeed Shanghai! Between 1937 and 1945 somewhere between twenty to twenty five thousand people fled Europe to seek refuge in Shanghai’s Hongkou district in a neighborhood set around the Ohel Moshe Synagogue. Today the old place of worship still stands as the centerpiece of Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, where visitors come to hear the amazing stories of The Shanghai Jews.
March 2019. Having paid the modest 20RMB entrance fee at the gate (£2.20/€2.70/$3), I made my way into the main courtyard where I was greeted by quite possibly the friendliest museum staff in China. With warm smiles and genuine interest they asked me where I was from, advised me to take the free guided tour and agreed to store my backpack in the main office.
March 2019. Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum is a unique place in that it is quite possibly the only Holocaust exhibit in the world where the Jewish people featured within are exclusively survivors. The memorial wall running across the full length of the complex lists around thirteen thousand names of those who came here from all over Europe to seek sanctuary.
Look closely and you’ll pick out a few stories inscribed into the wall, such as that of Eric Goldstaub: “No consulate or embassy in Vienna was prepared to grant us immigration visas until, by luck and perseverance I went to the Chinese consulate where, wonders of wonders, I was granted visas for me and my extended family. On the basis of these visas we were able to obtain shipping accommodation on the Bianco Mano from an Italian shipping line expected to leave in early December 1938 from Genoa, Italy to Shanghai, China, a journey of approximately thirty days”.
March 2019. Inside the museum these personal stories are given more meat with artifacts such as suitcases, right of passage tickets and other personal effects from the families who came here to setup home in what became known as Shanghai’s Jewish Ghetto. All of the Shanghai Jews were hugely thankful to the local Chinese community here who, from the very beginning, welcomed them into the fold.
You can also head into the ground floor of the old synagogue, which is still a place of worship. There you’ll find a heartfelt tribute to the Chinese community of Hongkou for everything they did in welcoming their new Jewish neighbors.
In the courtyard at the back of the building you’ll see two statues that are hugely important to the stories of The Shanghai Jews. First up is the tribute to Dr. Ho Feng Shan, who was the Chinese consul general in Vienna between 1938-1940. This is the dude who issues “visas for life” the thousands of Jews who escaped the holocaust by scampering off to Shanghai.
The other statue to look for is that of Jacob Rosenfeld, an Austrian Jew who felt such a kinship with the Chinese people of Hongkou that he actually enlisted as a field doctor in the Chinese New Fourth Army fighting against Japanese aggression.
Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum offers up a fascinating slice of the city’s history away from the chaos of the main tourist circuit. The occasional bus tour might drop in and out but other than that this is a place to be explored at your leisure in peace. Operating hours are daily from 09:00-17:00 with last entrance at 16:30.
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