Jewish refugee born in “Shanghai Ghetto” offers her memories on Holocaust Remembrance Day

World Today

Jewish refugee born in “Shanghai Ghetto” offers her memories on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Jews around the world marked Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday.

It’s a day to commemorate the death of six million Jews during World War II at the hands of the German Nazis.

Among the Holocaust survivors were tens of thousands who escaped to Shanghai, China. CGTN’s Stephanie Freid met a Shanghai-born Jewish refugee who says her family was lucky to make it to safety in China.

“She went to her parents and she said ‘we heard that things are going to get very bad here’,” recounted Chana Persoff, who was born in the “Shanghai Ghetto”. And her parents said ‘You’re crazy.’ And they stayed. She wanted to take her sister and her parents didn’t want her to.”

That was in 1940. Germany had occupied Poland, Hitler’s strength was gaining and Chana’s mother – 30-years old at the time – left her parents and siblings behind in Vilna.

“…From Lithuania, across the whole of Russia, to Vladivostok stopped over in Japan, and then Shanghai was just amazingly open,” said Chana.

Around 23,000 Jews lived in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during WWII. Chana’s parents married there and lived in the quote “Jewish ghetto” for 7 years.

“My brother was born there, then me and then my sister,” said Chana. “They were lucky that they had three children that all survived.”

That’s because, in 1943, Japan forced Jews into the two-and-a-half square kilometer Hongkou District. There were schools, newspapers, culture and religious freedom – but overcrowding, disease, and starvation took a toll. Nonetheless, Chana’s parents were lucky

“I have postcards that she got from Poland. Her brothers were writing, you know, ‘to our dear sister. How are you? Everything here is fine.’ But that was the last postcards. Like in ’41. And then from then, she didn’t hear from them. They were all killed,” remembered Chana.

Chiang Kai Shek’s army liberated the Shanghai Ghetto in 1945. Chana’s family went from China to New York to stay with relatives. As an adult, Chana relocated to Israel.

“They always felt that they were comfortable, that it was a haven…that they were rescued…and they just thanked God for the miracle that they were able to end up in Shanghai,” she said. “They looked at it as very good years.”

Chana hasn’t been back to Shanghai since 1947, although she hopes to one day return to see her birthplace first hand.

Karen Woods on Shanghai’s Jewish refugees

To learn more about Shanghai’s Jewish refugees, CGTN’s Mike Walter spoke with Karen Woods. She’s a senior associate with Solstice Public Affairs and is active in the Chinese community, writing for two influential Chinese newspapers.