Shanghi Ghetto

December, 2002, Documentary

Shanghai Ghetto

An interesting look at a fascinating piece of World War II history, this documentary follows the migration of European Jews out of Hitler's ominous grasp in the year or so before the start of hostilities and their odyssey half way around the world to the only port that would take them without papers; the decadent, crowded city of Shanghai. Interspersing interviews with the survivors of this remarkable Diaspora with archival footage of Germany in 1937-38, the film traces some of the 20,000 German and Polish Jews who were able to make their way to the Far East, (on luxury Japanese cruise ships no less) only to be dumped into a small section of the city formerly set aside for the poorest Chinese. The establishment of social services, and their enterprising delivery to this group of fish-out-of-water immigrants included everything from soccer clubs to foreign language newspapers to coffee shops, all tucked in and around the impoverished Chinese citizens with whom they shared miserable living conditions. 

Those circumstances only grew worse after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of Japan into the war. The film brims with interesting facts; the environment which led to Shanghai's status as an "open city" before the war, Japan's unwillingness to offend American Jewry before Pearl Harbor, the ability of many German Jews to escape from the death camps in 1937 and '38 if they could ransom their way out, etc. The final moments of the film record the sad realization that as terrible as their circumstances were, this Jewish ghetto was certainly a far better and safer place than the comfortable homes they left behind. 

The Verdict? A haunting experience, packed with extra impact because of the first hand testimony of those who involved.

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