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November 25, 2011

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Woman's search for 'Mr Chu'

Vera Sasson, a 73-year-old Jewish woman who took shelter in Shanghai as a refugee during World War II, is appealing for help to find a local man who aided her family more than 65 years ago.

With her only clue an old, black and white picture of the man in his thirties or forties she calls Mr Chu, Sasson came to Shanghai in June to search for him or his relatives so that she could express her gratitude for his help in her family's hardest and darkest days.

She recalled that Chu helped her, then a 6-year-old schoolgirl, by ordering rickshaws to take her to school every morning and pick her up in the afternoon for at least two years. She said he treated her to desserts almost every day after school and his kindly gestures left her with an abiding and cherished memory.

Chen Jian, curator of Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, joined her in the search.

"We found out that she was looking for something in the city desperately. Then she showed us the picture of her kind neighbor and told us the story," Chen said.

Sasson was sent to Shanghai from Vienna with her family during the war when she was only eight months old.

She 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 to live with local residents, said Chen.

Sasson told museum staff that she lived in Tilanqiao from 1939 to 1949 and grew up with local children and neighbors. She learned to speak fluent Shanghai dialect.

When she was old enough to go to school, Sasson said she was surprised to find a rickshaw parked outside her home every morning. The rickshaw driver would refuse to take other business from pedestrians while he took her to school and back home again.

She later discovered that it was Mr Chu, her Shanghai-native neighbor, who ordered the rickshaw service for her as he was afraid the little girl would not be able to find one during rush hour.

Sasson recalled that Chu's home was on the route from her home to school and the man would invite her in to share dessert after school.

As she was only six at the time and Shanghai has dramatically changed in the past 66 years, Sasson, now an elderly woman, found it was impossible to remember where the man used to live.

Sasson revisited Changyang Road in Tilanqiao, where she used to live, but found no trace of her neighbor.

The woman, who is now back in the United States, and museum staff are now asking for the public's help to find the man or any surviving relatives.

Anyone who thinks they can help can e-mail Shanghai Daily ( or call the museum on (021) 6512 6669.


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