Shanghai: A Wartime Haven – Marking Seventy Years Since Liberation

IMG_6955By Erica Lyons

The Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre has concluded a new exhibition titled, Shanghai: A Wartime Haven. The exhibition marks the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of the Shanghai ghetto, a temporary safe haven to nearly 17,000 Holocaust refugees who had escaped Europe with no where else to go. The opening of the exhibition, on 31 August 2015, coincided with the week in which a one-off Chinese and Hong Kong public holiday (3 September) was held likewise marking the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Greater China by Allied forces.

IMG_7021Of special note are the panels celebrating the role of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in helping to provide lifesaving provisions for the refugees during their darkest days in Shanghai and then assisting them in their eventual emigration post-war. Additionally, there are three panels celebrating the work of individuals who played significant roles in securing the safety of these Jewish refugees. These individuals are Chinese diplomat Ho Feng-Shan, Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara and the JDC’s first female overseas representative, Laura Jarblum Margolis. Both Sugihara and Ho continued to issue lifesaving visas to Jews in Europe, against direct orders of their superiors, thus saving the lives of thousands. Margolis tirelessly worked to provide for the destitute refugees, often forced to flee Europe with little more than what they had on their backs, once they reached Shanghai.

The exhibition was being displayed in two locations simultaneously. An in-depth presentation was found in the Oasis walkway, a well trafficked public space in Central Hong Kong. Quite appropriately, the exhibition was also being displayed in The Peninsula Hotel. Following liberation, scores of Shanghai refugees were offered succour within The Peninsula Hotel, housed in the ballrooms which served as makeshift barracks. The Peninsula exhibition adds a special focus on the role the Kadoorie family personally had in aiding the refugees in both Shanghai and Hong Kong during their extended post-war transit stopover.

IMG_6978Shanghai: A Wartime Haven has been created to reflect on the stories of those Jews who found a measure of safety in China. The exhibition stresses the hardships and deprivations they faced there and also serves to inform Hong Kongers of the depth of destruction of Jewish life in Europe. Overall though, this is an exhibition that speaks of hope and humanity against all odds.

For more information on the remarkable story of Shanghai’s Jewish refugees in Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel, please see Five Star Refuge: A Week at the Pen.