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The Port of Last Resort: Zuflucht in Shanghai Reviews

Just when you think there are no more forgotten stories of WWII, another is remembered. This documentary by two filmmakers, Austrian Paul Rosdy and American Joan Grossman, deals with the 20,000 Europeans Jews who fled to Shanghai during the years 1939-41 and established a flourishing enclave that was nicknamed "Little Vienna." The exodus to China was the by product of Shanghai's unique history; acquired by Great Britain during the Opium Wars of the 1840s, Shanghai — the "Paris of the East" — was a free port and no papers were required to enter. Shanghai was, however, also crowded, disease-ridden, economically incapable of supporting the sudden influx of foreigners and under Japanese control. Grossman and Rosdy have assembled a remarkable collection of newsreels, propaganda films and home movies, which they intercut with interview footage featuring four survivors of the Shanghai years. Ernest Heppner chose Shanghai when quota restrictions kept him out of America; his wife Illo, whom he met and married there, came with her family and saw her mother sink into the twilight existence of clinical depression. Fred Fields fled Berlin as a teenager, leaving his mother behind, while Siegmar Simon arrived as an 11-year-old, thinking it was a family vacation. Their reminiscences are fleshed out by letters from other refugees, read by German actress Barbara Sukowa and Austrian actor Otto Tausig. Some of the newcomers fared relatively well, opening shops, nightclubs and coffee houses, publishing newspapers and restoring apartments and even houses in which to live. Others remained in crowded refugee camps, competing with poor Chinese locals for manual labor, barely making enough to feed themselves from day to day. Rosdy and Grossman's film, which has no narrator, paints a vivid and haunting portrait of refugee experiences in Shanghai.