Lost Story of Painful Escape - A Good Cinematic Experience
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 03/10/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A couple of years before World War II, Europe and the United States turned their back on millions Jews in Europe that tried to escape an increasing persecution. Nations closed their borders after a political meeting between several nations with Germany in the center that led nowhere. Hitler used the result of the meeting as an invitation to increase the intensity of the Jewish persecution. Some Jews were fortunate enough to escape to neighboring countries while many were escorted back to the German border and handed to the Gestapo. However, far away on the other side of the world some fortunate Jews that had the financial means to escape found a loophole - Shanghai.
Japan and China had been in war, which led to the occupation of Shanghai. The Japanese forces were not checking passports, as people arrived to Shanghai by ships. The Chinese government had been abandoned, as was the passport control. Thus, Jews could leave Germany, even though their passports had been restricted or revoked, to peacefully enter Shanghai. A pleasurable four-week voyage through the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean led the escaping Jews to their destination, Shanghai.
Arrivals were initially shocked by the environment to which they arrived. This culture crash had its foundation in several new experiences such as the extreme humidity, high temperature, different written and spoken language, and new food among many other things. Yet, the 20,000 Jews that arrived found a way to cope in the new society. This is much thanks to the British Jews that had lived in Shanghai since the beginning of the century who had acquired much wealth. In the years before World War II and in the beginning of the war the newcomers basically founded their own miniature society within Shanghai. Coffee shops, newspapers, sports events, and much more offered an outlet where the Jews could live a life much like in Europe.
As the war increasingly intensified the Germans who were allies with Japan pressured the Japanese to create a ghetto in Shanghai for the Jews. The Japanese slowly established this ghetto, but it was very unlike the ghetto in Warsaw, Poland. Nonetheless, food became scarce while starvation and disease made life much more difficult, which even cost several people their lives. Despite the difficulties in Shanghai, the Jews never learned how lucky they were until the end of the war. When the terribly tragic news of the death camps in Europe reached them in Shanghai this moment brought them a heavy sadness, as they realized how lucky they were while reflecting on their relatives and family members' horrific fate.
Shanghai Ghetto offers an interesting cinematic journey, as a number of people offer first hand accounts of what it was like to live in the Shanghai Ghetto. One man tells how traumatic it was to experience the bombing of Shanghai at the end of the war. A woman also expresses her contempt for Germany and how she now has no surviving relatives, which is very hard to hear, as one cannot even imagine the pain she must feel. These stories that the audience experiences through film provides and reinforces an important notion - let this never happen again."
Fascinating subject, OK production
Jeff | 11/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is an OK production of a fascinating subject.
The information is good. They interview Prof. David Kranzler, the expert in the field, as well as other knowledgeable professors. These are interwoven with interviews of a handful of actual survivors. These, too, are enlightening, real and touch the heart.
The timeline follows these survivors, who all escaped Germany in 1938. It relates their early memories of life in Germany, Kristallnacht, their troubles getting out, their travel to Shanghai, their attempts to making a living and establish themselves there, the effects of Japan's entry into the war in 1941 and their consequent move into the unsanitary, overcrowded poor section of the city known as Hongkew, their difficulties fending off disease, starvation and anti-Semitism (not from the Chinese so much as the Japanese and non-Jewish ethnicities like Russians), the Allied bombing in July 1945, their liberation and discovery of the horrors of the Holocaust in Germany which they, only in retrospect, learned of and learned how lucky they were to have avoided.
It's a compelling story, a case of truth being stranger than fiction.
However, they missed at least one major part of the story. There were more than 2,000 refugees (many of whom had been teachers and students in one of Jewry's most prestigious educational institutions, the Mirrer Yeshiva) that arrived in Shanghai in 1941 who escaped Nazi Germany and then Soviet-controlled Lithuania, who then obtained visas miraculously, traveled on the Trans-Siberian railroad before landing in Japan and then being deported, at the start of the hostilities with the US, to Shanghai. This group was not German. Their experiences before and even during the war (they reestablished their Yeshiva there) were very different. I personally was hoping to learn more about them in this documentary. But there was not even a word about it. Not even a hint.
There was also other parts of the Shanghai experience that were not even hinted to: e.g. how the Nazis sent an SS organizer to get the Japanese to liquidate the Jews in Shanghai but who met resistance because the Japanese believed Nazi propoganda that International Jewry was not something to be dealt with lightly. There were some real heroes: e.g. the Japanese diplomat who risked his life to save Jews. But none of that was touched upon.
All in all, though, it's a valuable documentary with much to offer. There's not a lot of photographs of Shanghai back then, and even less film footage, but that's to be expected. (You had no Fritz Hipplers, i.e. Nazi film producers on hand making a final record of a soon-to-be-exterminated people.) It skips some historical moments, like the end of the war in Europe (I would like to have known of the survivors' reactions to that), but it does cover other major historical moments of the War and Holocaust, including the survivors listening to German, Russian and American radio broadcasts to find out what was happening in the outside world.
This documentary is definitely worth a viewing. I can also see it being something good for a classroom. It's just that the motivated teacher and parent, as well as the individual who wants to be well-informed, will have to fill in some of the gaps with other sources."
J. Wassermann | Vancouver, BC Canada | 07/30/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I had read quotes from critics who said this "drama" [my quotes] was a regrettable adaptation of historic events by amateur film-makers who had slapped together a potentially fine story, with poor editing, music, and technical support. While my wife and I did find some technical rough spots, we soon realized that we were watching a true documentary with here and there a dramatization that made the events more comprehensible. We were amazed at learning the details of a history which we had only vaguely known about. Many of our previous miscopnceptions were set straight, and by the end of the film we found ourselves profoundly moved. A must-see film for Jews (even non-practicing ones like ourselves), and recommended for all others with an interest in human history."
A little-known story
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 03/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film, inspired by director-producer Dana Janklowicz-Mann's own family history (her grandmother and stepgrandfather fled Germany for Shanghai in 1938, along with her then-eight year old father), tells the story of a little-known chapter of WWII. When the world closed its doors to untold amounts of people desperately trying to escape Europe before the Nazis devoured them, or played the rules and regulations game as though bureaucratic red tape and ridiculously small yearly immigration quotas that were never even filled should have mattered when lives were at stake, Shanghai gave them shelter. This was the only place in the world at the time that didn't require an exit visa, and it was also just before WWII, when the Jews of Germany and Austria were still allowed to leave instead of having even their own borders closed to them. Though there was a thriving thousand year old Jewish community in China, Shanghai was largely made up of three rather recent groups. The first were the wealthy Iraqis, who had come with the British in the 19th century; the second were the Russians who had fled after the Revolution and Civil War; and the third were the Germans and Austrians (later joined by some Poles who managed to escape through Siberia; as it's pointed out in the audio commentary, the story of the Shanghai Poles was left out due to time considerations and because the main story was already built around the experience of these Germans, not because it was deemed unimportant or because the producers didn't know about it).
Shanghai was an international city, with a thriving multicultural community; this wasn't a place where the refugees found themselves the only non-Chinese around for miles. And with rare exceptions like the powerful bureaucrat Goya, all of the Chinese were so nice to them. Though most of them had never met any Jews before, there wasn't a whiff of anti-Semitism in the air. They saw them as people who were suffering just as they were, who had been forced to leave their homes and families behind. And though the native Chinese did have it even harder, the Germans too had to go through hunger, disease, poverty, crowding (though the ghetto referred to in the title wasn't anything like the Warsaw Ghetto or Lodz Ghetto; it was more like a Medieval ghetto, just a small segregated area of a city), and the Japanese occupation. However, they actually fared much better than the Chinese under the Japanese occupation, because the Japanese were operating under the anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews being powerful and controlling the world, and didn't want to make this large new segment of the population angry, for fear there would be far-reaching repurcussions. They also treated the Russians well because they had fled from the Bolsheviks, whom Japan was at war with, holding true to the old line "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." At first the Germans had been being taken care of by the Iraqis, but after Pearl Harbor they were sent to internment camps (being British subjects) along with all of the other citizens of the Allied forces living in Shanghai. The Russian community stepped to the fore to take care of them, though they weren't quite as well-off as the Iraqis. They were also taken care of by Laura Margolis, a social worker with the JDC, even though she had to get money from local businesses and government agents to afford these services after Pearl Harbor, when America stopped giving financial aid to this land controlled by an enemy force. Yet from these harsh living conditions they managed to make a thriving community for themselves, with schools, athletic associations, religious life, cultural programming, newspapers, and literary magazines. And though things were really rough for them, as they found out after the war, they had been living in a paradise compared to the people left behind in Europe.
Extras include audio commentary by producer-directors Dana Janklowicz-Mann and her husband Amir Mann, film-maker bios, a trailer, and three additional interviews. Overall, it's a powerful and fascinating look into a little-known saga of WWII."