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Jewish American hopes to find Shanghai nanny decades later

PETER Max, a 74-year-old Jewish American who is a renowned graphic artist in the US, is searching for a Shanghai "nanny" who took care of him and taught him how to draw when he took shelter as a refugee in the city about 65 years ago.

"When I was three years old, a nine-year-old young girl came to my home in Shanghai as she was hired by my mother to be my babysitter," said Max during a remote video conference yesterday at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum.

"My nanny was only six years older than I and I always treated her as a little sister. I still remember how she held my hands, drawing circles and circles on paper to teach me painting," Max said.

"She had the techniques to teach me because her father was a painter," he added.

Max was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1938. His family moved to Shanghai to escape the Nazis two years later. Max left Shanghai in 1949, but he has never forgotten the days he spent with his little nanny.

Max recalled that his nanny would take him out to draw under the sun in the daytime and draw the sky full of stars at night, which made him a "good artist" at a young age.

His nanny even taught him to use multiple colors, instead of a single one, to draw the sun, sky and moon, which helped Max become a world famous artist known for his bold use of color.

The Shanghai girl would throw away the paintings after the boy finished and asked him to do another one so he could develop his skills further, Max recalled.

"But unfortunately I can't find even one of her pictures in the old photo albums and I didn't even know her name," Max said. "I always called her 'Umba" but I don't know whether it was her real name or just a nickname. If she is still alive, she should be over 80."

He said he used to live on "Tangshan Road" in Shanghai, a road on which an India temple and a Chinese temple were located on either side of the street.

Officials with the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum said they would help the artist find the woman. They are starting to look for a woman called Wen Bo on Zhoushan Road, and Max said he would visit Shanghai in October to look for his nanny and hold an art exhibition.

Max was among some 30,000 Jewish refugees who fled to the city from their homelands from 1933 to 1941.

About 18,000 Jewish refugees settled down in the "designated area for stateless refugees" in the city's Tilanqiao area in Hongkou District.


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