Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Learn About the City that Became Noah’s Ark for Thousands
The Shanghai Ghetto, also known as the Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees, covered a square mile in the southern Hongkou and southwestern Yanpu districts of modern Shanghai.
Wednesday, January 30, 2019



America turned away most of the Jews fleeing the Holocaust—the country had met its quota, officials said. Australia was reluctant to take them, saying they were not desirous of importing a potential racial problem. And a Canadian official said “none is too many” when asked how many Jewish refugees his country would accept.

In the end, it was a city in a country you would probably never suspect that ended up saving the most Jews during the Holocaust.

There are just traces of Jewish presence in Shanghai today.

Shanghai, China, took in 20,000 Jewish European refugees, adding them to 10,000 others who had fled  pogroms in Russia or were related to wealthy merchants who immigrated in the mid-1800s from Egypt, Iraq and India.

Its port was open. No passports were required. And authorities didn’t blink when they learned that each person was arriving with only about 10 Deutschmarks—the maximum the Nazis would allow them to take.

That would be just over $4 today.

Dvir Bar-Gal, an Israeli photojournalist, stumbled onto this bit of fascinating history when he moved to Shanghai 17 years ago in search of TV work. And he will share some of the stories he has uncovered  Thursday and Friday in two free presentations offered by the Wood River Jewish Community.

Dvir Bar-Gal can even take you to the home where former U.S. Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal lived with his parents after they fled Germany in 1939.

Bar-Gal will present: “Sweet and Sour Safe Heaven: The WWII Jewish Refugees’ Experience in Shanghai, China” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Sun Valley Road.

He will present “Opium & Hospitality at the Wild East—The Baghdadi Jewish Legacy of Shanghai” at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1, following a short Shabbat service that starts at 6 p.m. That talk will describe the Baghdadis, or Babylonian Jews, who went to China in the mid-1800s to trade opium after its legalization.

Bar-Gal became immersed in Jewish/Chinese lore after he began searching for Shanghai’s lost Jewish cemeteries. He eventually made it his quest to unearth and save some 4,000 lost Jewish graves and place the gravestones he collected to place where they could be remembered.

In the process, he began sharing what he had learned through four-hour tours of the Jewish quarter in Shanghai.

Dvir Bar-Gal is filming a full-length documentary on the Jewish cemeteries and gravestones of Shanghai.

Bob Goldstein, a member of the WRJC, took one of his tours in November while visiting his son Jeffery, who lives and work in China.

“He talked about how the Jewish were an integral part in developing the city of Shanghai, and it was fascinating,” said Goldstein. “People asked him to come to America and he will be talking in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Boise and Sun Valley.”

One of the ways Bar-Gal brings the history is alive is through individual stories.

He tells, for instance, of a Chinese diplomat in China’s Vienna consulate who defied his superiors to issue thousands of visas with a Chinese chop seal. And he tells of an officer in Japan’s Lithuanian consulate who may have saved 6,000 Jews as he recognized the growing danger and issued exit visas by the hundreds.

Of course, when Japan aligned with the Nazis, they confined Jews to tiny section of city that became known as the Shanghai Ghetto where a little man with a bad temper who often jumped on his desk in rage  ruled the roost, saying which refugees got to go see the doctor or leave the area for any other reason.

Much of the Jewish presence in Shanghai, including the Jewish cemetery and synagogue, has been lost in a city that has doubled in population to 24 million people in the past 30 years.

And most of the Jews are gone, as well, having emigrated to Israel, the United States, England and Australia as the Community Revolution was beginning in 1949.

Today there are only about 3,000 Jews left in Shanghai—one of them being Dvir Bar-Gal.


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