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October 17, 2013

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Promise kept by Shanghai family to Jewish teacher over 70 years

Pan Lu packed up and handed over some 2,000 old books to Hongkou Library yesterday, a collection left by a Jewish refugee some 70 years ago.

They had been in her family ever since, but with their home to be demolished, it was time to entrust them to the library.

The teacher from Germany, remembered as “Headmaster Carl,” asked Lin Daozhi, Pan’s father-in-law, to look after the books for him when he left Shanghai in the 1940s.

“I’ll be back to get them,” Carl told Lin. But he never returned.

Lin, his wife and two sons are now dead, but his relatives are still trying to contact Carl’s family to return the books.

“A promise is a responsibility, so we’ll wait for the owner of the books,” said 65-year-old Pan.

The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum and the German Consulate in Shanghai said yesterday that they will try to find Carl’s family and return the books.

“The museum and consulate will ask for help from German archives to look for the owner of the books,” said Chen Jian, curator of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum.

Lin’s home on Changzhi Road is being demolished to make way for development of the North Bund area, planned as a shipping and financial center.

“Otherwise, we would continue keeping these books until the owner appears, even though we know it is like fishing for a needle in the ocean,” said Sun Lide, Lin’s granddaughter-in-law.

Carl had been a high school head teacher in Germany. He was among the tens of thousands of Jews who, fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe, took refuge the Tilanqiao area of Hongkou.

There he taught at a religious school run by Lin, who also ran a soap and paper factory.

“Everyone called Carl ‘headmaster Carl,’ and he taught Jewish children who lived near the school,” Pan said, recounting the story she heard from her husband.

Carl handed over the mostly religious books in English, German and Hebrew to Lin when he left Shanghai. Some are stamped “Paul High School,” which may hold a clue to his identity.

In September 1947, just over two years after World War II had ended, Lin received a letter in English from Carl, saying he was back in Germany.

He said his home had suffered little damage at the hands of the Nazis and that he had a government job. Carl said he looked forward to hearing from Lin.

However, over the years Carl and Lin lost contact.

Most recently, the books were stored in the middle of the 10-square-meter apartment Pan and her son share in a traditional shikumen building, near the Huangpu River,

“It was difficult for my father-in-law to store the books for three generations,” Pan admits.

But Pan said she never thought of getting rid of the books, even her home was small, and the collection remains intact.

Over the years, however, they had several near-misses.

In 1945, Lin hired 10 porters to take the books to his birthplace in Huangyan, Zhejiang Province as Japanese invaders planned to bomb Shanghai.

En-route they evaded thieves by quickly getting onto a boat.

In the 1960s During the so-called “cultural Revolution, the books were to be burned after being mistaken as “banned books,” but a downpour scuppered that plan.

Pan says keeping the books was also keeping a promise to Lin. “Among his last words, Lin asked us to keep protecting the books and to wait for Carl.”

Anyone with any information can contact Shanghai Daily.



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