By Elizabeth McKie
Shanghai will surprise you every day – whether it’s the perfect (and always witty) English spoken by the waiter at the hole in the wall noodle restaurant or massive rainstorms that interrupt a perfectly sunny day… I quickly learned by the third day here that no day in this city would be boring. So when during a conversation about my major and interest in the Jewish Holocaust, I should not have been that stunned to hear, “So you must be fascinated by the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum here?” come out of the teacher’s mouth.
I had been studying in Shanghai for about three weeks at that moment, taking in as much of the city as I could each day between classes and my internship. I feverishly Googled “top ten things to do in Shanghai” or “best museums to visit in Shanghai” or “Shanghai’s best Sichuan restaurants” to ensure everything I was doing was, in fact, “the best”. But never in any of my Google searches did the Jewish Refugees Museum come up. Maybe it is because when people come to Shanghai, they do not even think that the Jewish Holocaust had any impact in China (a valid thought) or even if they did know, that is not what they came to Shanghai to see (an even more valid thought).
But in MY top ten list of things to do in Shanghai, this museum definitely makes the list.
In my three years of study of the Jewish Holocaust, not once had I seen reference to Shanghai in any book discussing refugees. So I had to take a look for myself.
Here is a brief description of the area and museum straight from the website.
From 1933 to 1941, Shanghai became a modern-day “Noah’s Ark” accepting around 30,000 Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust in Europe. In the “Designated Area for Stateless Refugees” in Tilanqiao area of Shanghai, about 20,000 Jewish refugees lived harmoniously with local citizens, overcoming numerous difficulties together. By the time the Second World War ended in 1945, most of the Jewish refugees had survived. Dr. David Kranzler, a noted Holocaust historian, called it the “Miracle of Shanghai” and commented that within the Jewry’s greatest tragedy, i.e. the Holocaust, there shone a few bright lights. Among the brightest of these is the Shanghai haven. In the “Tilanqiao Historic Area”, the original features of the Jewish settlement are still well preserved. They are the only typical historic traces of Jewish refugee life inside China during the Second World War.
If you add the museum to your Shanghai itinerary, take a guided tour. I first ventured to the museum with only an hour to spare, so I chose to explore the area on my own, but left feeling like I had missed a lot of what the museum had to offer me. Call the museum 021-6512-6669 to see when English tours are running (the ticket manager speaks English) or register online. Price per person is 40 RMB.
Tours will take you through the synagogue, one of only two in Shanghai, and into the museum. The third floor is the most impressive, featuring history on the Holocaust in Europe for those whose knowledge is lacking, as well as actual artifacts from Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp, where many of the refugees families would have been sent. You will also see two exhibition halls behind the synagogue that tell more stories about the refugees and those who assisted in saving their lives. Don’t miss reading about Ho Feng Shan, one of the leaders in the act to save these people from persecution.
The neighborhood extends beyond the walls of the synagogue. With a map provided by the museum, you can also visit Huoshan Park, where many of the Jewish Refugees would gather together and the largest refugee shelter in Shanghai (there were seven altogether).
Take metro line 4 to the Dalian Road stop. Exit 3 out of the metro will put you right on Changyang Rd. Walk south for about five minutes, the museum will be on the left hand side of the street, near the corner of Changyang Road and Zhoushan Road.
Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum 上海犹太难民纪念馆
62 Changyang Road near the corner of Zhoushan Rd. and Changyang Rd. 62 号长阳路 离舟山路 和长阳路近。
Tel: (086) 021-6512-6669
For more information about Jewish history in Shanghai, check out this article. Published in 2000, right after the museum opened, its description of the museum is vastly different than what it offers now, but does give a great insight into the history of the area and why Shanghai became a haven for the refugees.