During World War II, while most of the world’s countries shut their doors to Europe’s endangered Jewish population, Shanghai, a Chinese city under Japanese occupation, opened its own.
An estimated 20,000 Jews found refuge in Shanghai at the height of the war. Most lived in the so-called ghetto for stateless refugees in the northeastern Hongkou district. Nearly all left Shanghai after the war.
Earlier this month, Shanghai’s one-time Jewish population was remembered.
On the 69th anniversary of China’s victory in the Sino-Japanese War (a part of WWII), a memorial that consists of a 111-foot-long copper wall on which 13,732 names are etched, and a sculpture that represents six allegorical figures (meant to suggest the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust), was unveiled. The memorial, designed by Chinese-American artist He Ning, is located in the city’s Jewish Refugee Museum, which opened seven years ago at the former site of the Ohel Moshe Synagogue.
The list, compiled with the help of the Israeli Consulate, former Jewish refugees and Chinese and foreign scholars, will be expanded as more names become known.
The artist said he chose copper, instead of marble, to avoid giving the memorial the look of a tombstone. “Most of the people on it were still alive” when the war ended, said Sonja Muhlberger, 75, who was born in Shanghai to parents who had fled Germany. “So it’s not a grave stone.”
She was among some 500 “Shanghai Babies” born there during the refugee period.
“The list is particularly meaningful,” Muhlberger told the China Times newspaper. “All of [the refugees] survived harsh days in the war and sheltered in Shanghai. Shanghai was the only place in the world open to Jewish refugees. We will never forget the city.”
At the start of WWII, more European Jews had fled to Shanghai, which did not require visas for admittance, than to any city in the world; they came by sea and land. “Each Jew has a name, while the Nazi atrocities forced them to hold their tongue,” Muhlberger said. “Today, we are able to give their names.”