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March 24, 2012

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Play tells how a city sheltered the Jews

THE time: World War II. The place: Shanghai, where more than 30,000 Jews were sheltered by the Chinese during the Japanese occupation - a saga now dramatized in a play that aims to highlight a little-known episode in history.

The directors of "North Bank Suzhou Creek," which premiered in Shanghai on Thursday prior to heading to New York later this year, said the story of what happened in wartime Shanghai needed to be told.

"This is the Chinese version of 'Schindler's List,'" said Jeffrey Sichel, one of the directors, referring to the Oscar-winning film about a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.

He said it was not well enough known that the Chinese gave shelter to over 30,000 Jews.

The Jewish refugees established a community with theaters and schools in an impoverished part of Shanghai north of the Bund before the Japanese heeded Nazi Germany's request they be forced to live in a ghetto area.

The play centers on a Jewish-run cafe on the north bank of Suzhou Creek, where Shana, the owner's daughter, finds herself pursued by both a Japanese official and Song Yao, a Chinese resistance fighter.

The six-person cast is divided evenly between Chinese and Western actors, and the play was directed by two Jewish-American directors.

Wang Jiajian, who plays Song Yao, said he felt the Jewish and Chinese people were united at that time because both were struggling with oppressors.

"When I hug Shana, the daughter of the Jewish man, sometimes I feel that I have gone back in time to that period," he said. "Our hearts understand each other, the way we think and the obstacles we face are very similar."

Emelie Ohana, who plays Shana, said: "There's something about this character, about this story, about what it says, that has so much meaning. It's so powerful."

The play is produced in partnership with the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, Chinese production company Play Play Studio Company, the international NGO, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Israeli Consulate in Shanghai.

It is on until April 1 at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, then has a two-day run at the Shanghai Theater Academy, before its New York premiere in May.


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