Shanghai Ghetto

The subject may be familiar to those who happened to catch the 1998 documentary PORT OF LAST RESORT, but this remarkable true story certainly bears repeating. With Nazi persecution escalating and few countries willing to relax their strict immigration restrictions to admit refugees, nearly 20,000 Jews found a relatively safe haven in a most unlikely place:...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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The subject may be familiar to those who happened to catch the 1998 documentary PORT OF LAST RESORT, but this remarkable true story certainly bears repeating. With Nazi persecution escalating and few countries willing to relax their strict immigration restrictions to admit refugees, nearly 20,000 Jews found a relatively safe haven in a most unlikely place: Shanghai. By the 1930s, Shanghai was a bustling international port city of extraordinary wealth and awful poverty; in addition to a lax immigration policy, Shanghai boasted a number of rich Jewish families who had settled in China during the 19th century. By the end of the decade, Shanghai was also home to the Japanese, who occupied most of the city in 1937. With no place else to go, Jews with the foresight and financial means arranged passage on ships bound for the East; once they arrived in Shanghai, they faced an extraordinary culture shock. Most were housed in the cramped apartments of the International Settlement, an independent district of the city that didn't require a visa or passport for entry and was, for a time, unoccupied by the Japanese. Food was scarce, conditions less than sanitary and work hard to come by — many Jews stayed alive through the beneficence of the city's rich Jewish families and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Center — but the Jews somehow managed to recreate a little bit of their own culture 8,000 miles from home, establishing a makeshift hospital, German-Yiddish newspapers, cabarets and coffee houses. After Pearl Harbor, however, things worsened considerably. Now officially at war with the Allies, the Japanese rounded up American and British subjects — which included the wealthy Jewish patrons — and cut off communications with the United States, making ongoing foreign support of the refugees next to impossible. Taking a cue from the Germans, the Japanese also relocated the Jews into a tightly controlled ghetto, where they faced poverty, rampant disease and near starvation until the end of the war. There appears to be little in the way of visual records of the experience, but filmmakers Amir Mann and Dana Janklowicz-Mann (whose father, a ghetto survivor, is interviewed extensively) make good use of what there is: period snapshots, family photos and newspaper clippings, as well as contemporary video footage of Shanghai taken as two former ghetto residents revisit their childhood homes. The story itself it mostly told through on-camera interviews with several survivors, whose riveting memories are rendered with such clarity that it's as if it all happened only yesterday.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The subject may be familiar to those who happened to catch the 1998 documentary PORT OF LAST RESORT, but this remarkable true story certainly bears repeating. With Nazi persecution escalating and few countries willing to relax their strict immigration rest… (more)

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