Exhibit recounts Shanghai's Jewish refugees in WWII

Updated: 2014-09-12 12:06

By May Zhou in Houston(China Daily USA)

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"I was a Jewish refugee in Shanghai from 1941 to 1948. I was a 10-year-old boy and by the time I left for the US I was 18. It was a tremendous experience; basically it gave me the seed to become a big achiever. When you go from one extreme to another extreme, you appreciate your roots," said Tom Lewinsohn, who came to Houston from Kansas City, Missouri, to attend the opening ceremony of Shanghai Jewish Refugees Exhibition.

About a hundred people from the US and China gathered at Congregation Beth Israel on Wednesday to attend the event. The exhibit will be on display here for two months.

Lewinsohn recounted his life in the ghetto that was established in the Hongkou District of Shanghai where nearly 15,000 Jewish people squeezed within one square mile among the local Chinese to escape the Holocaust in Europe during World War II. His father was a chief physician at a hospital and to a little boy it was wonderful time.

"We had orchestras, operas and a lot of doctors. I played soccer for the international team. My experience there was one of friendship with Chinese people and Jewish people from all around the world. Life was good in Shanghai," said Lewinsohn.

But he also witnessed disasters. One of them occurred in July 1945 when US bomber planes missed the Japanese target and mistakenly bombed the ghetto. "There were a lot of casualties and I did not see my father for a few days."

Once an adult, Lewinsohn immigrated to the US in 1948 and served in the US Air Force for a few years, and then finally settled down in Kansas City. He got married, raised children and served as the city's personnel director for 30 years. "I have had a lifetime of good experiences," he said with satisfaction.

According to Randy Czarlinsky, the Houston regional director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), this exhibit was put together with the help from Congregation Beth Israel's Arts Committee, AJC's Asia Pacific Institute, the Shanghai Jewish Museum and the consul at the Chinese Consulate in Houston.

Czarlinsky said that the AJC has worked with Chinese communities for over 50 years, including the recent AJC Project Interchange that led a delegation of 10 prominent Chinese leaders and officials to Israel for intensive dialogue and briefings. "This exhibit shows a strong commitment to Jewish-Chinese relations in Houston specifically."

Rabbi David Lyon called the exhibit an example of the "promise of hope and humanity can be found at the darkest time."

Gao Xiang, district chief of the Hongkou District, Shanghai, said that the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum was established in 2010 and has received visitors from more than 80 countries. Beginning in 2011, the exhibit started an international tour to cities in Germany, Israel and the US. "This will help the world to learn about this piece of history and Chinese people," she said.

Chinese Consul General Li Qiangmin pointed out that the exhibit brought us back to WWII when Jewish refugees and Shanghai residents supported each other to finally win victory and peace. "We need to draw lessons from history. More than 70 years have passed but militarism is still a threat."

Texas State Representatives Sylvester Turner and Gene Wu also made remarks at the ceremony. "The miracle of Shanghai has a revered place in history. Thousands of Jews who probably would have died in concentration camps survived. Few, if any other communities can say they saved that many people," said Turner.

Wu said the Chinese and Jewish people are two powerful ancient cultures sharing a lot of similarities. "We both love learning, love life and understand the pain of having a mother who used food to guilt you. This exhibit is a good representation of what is good and right across all cultural lines. This helps us to reflect on what we do to serve and what is good and right on a day-to-day basis."

Zhou Taitong, vice chair of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference of Shanghai, came in later due to a flight delay and joined the guests to view the exhibition.


(China Daily USA 09/12/2014 page2)