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July 8, 2014

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Home » Metro » Entertainment and Culture

Jewish museum exhibits to be part of UN celebrations

A SHANGHAI museum exhibition recounting the history of Jewish refugees who found a haven in the city during World War II will be part of next year’s New York observances of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations.

For Jerry Lindenstraus, one of those refugees, the history is a living memory. The 85-year-old, now living in New York, arrived with his family in Shanghai in 1939 after fleeing Nazi Germany. He was 10 years old. The family remained here for eight years.

“I will never forget my years in Shanghai and I have always been grateful to Shanghai and to the Chinese people,” Lindenstraus said at ceremonies opening the exhibition, entitled “Jewish Refugees and Shanghai,” in Washington on June 23.

The exhibition, mounted by the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum, was staged for a week, winning high praise and attracting large numbers of visitors.

It recreates the 1930s and 40s, when about 18,000 Jews who fled Nazi persecution entered the city. It tells the stories of the hardships they faced and the friendships they forged with local residents.

One piece of the exhibition draws details published in the book “The Shanghai I Knew,” an autobiography written by Ellis Jacob, who was born in Shanghai in 1931 and remained here until 1949. The book explains how Jews who escaped Nazi persecution found themselves embroiled in the Japanese occupation of Shanghai until the city was liberated by the People’s Liberation Army.

Jews were herded into a ghetto, where diseases were rampant and it was difficult to earn a living, Jacob said in the book. Since the ghetto was close to many military targets, stray bombs sometimes hit homes, killing internees. They were forced to watch Japanese newsreels, and the children forced to learn Japanese in school, according to the book.

Among the large number of people who came to view the exhibition in Washington was Grace Meng, a Democratic Congresswoman from New York. She said the exhibition is important because most Americans don’t know the story of Jews in Shanghai. Matt Nosanchuk, Jewish Affairs Advisor to US President Barack Obama, said “it’s a story of humanity and compassion that saved tens of thousands of lives.”

Allan Reich, a member of the American Jewish Committee Board of Governors, agreed. "In remembering the past, we look to the future, to strengthen the positive relations between China and the United States, between China and Israel and between Jewish and Chinese communities globally,” he said.

Chen Jian, curator of the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum, said he is pleased by the warm American reaction to the exhibition and thinks staging it at the UN will help spread the story it has to tell.

“Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the triumph over fascism and Japanese imperialism, and the founding of the UN,” Chen said of events in 1945.

“The end of the war,” he said, “allowed Jews in the Shanghai ghetto to regain their freedom. It's meaningful to hold such an activity at the UN and remind people of history so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Among other activities planned to mark next year’s historical remembrances, the documented names of more than 14,000 Jewish refugees who sheltered in Shanghai will be engraved on a bronze sculpture to be unveiled later this year, Chen said, adding that the museum will visit local schools with a mobile display to educate young people about an often forgotten corner of history.


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