- Shanghai Refuge: A Memoir of the World War II Jewish Ghetto (review)
- Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
- Purdue University Press
- Volume 13, Number 4, Summer 1995
- pp. 96-98
- View Citation
- Additional Information
96 SHOFAR Summer 1995 Vol. 13, No.4 Holocaust, long incomplete, may now become more comprehensible as a result of a more thorough examination of the Soviet archives. Stephen C. Feinstein Department of History University of Wisconsin-River Falls Shanghai Refuge: A Memoir of the World War II Jewish Ghetto, by Ernest G. Heppner. ~ncoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993. 191 pp. $23.95. This inspiring memoir is a story of survival. Ernest G. Heppner, a Jewish youth in Hitler's Germany during the 1930s, writes about his efforts to escape the tentacles of Nazism only to spend his adolescence and young adulthood in China; a distant foreign land also in turmoil and war. The unique and traumatic experiences of tens of thousands of Jews who managed to escape for the "temporary" haven of Shanghai are described with objectivity and clarity. Despite his limited formal education, Heppner resorted to his inherent astuteness and instinctive recognition of danger to survive adversity. Through contacts, good luck, and plenty ofchutzpah, he was able to weave his way through the maze of China's unfamiliar cultural mores while maintaining his stability and Jewish identity. In preparing his account, Heppner resorted both to his vivid memory and to the doctoral dissertation [Yeshiva University, 1971] of David H. Kranzler, published as japanese, Nazis, and jews: The jewish Refugee Community ofShanghai, 1938-1945 (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav PublishingHouse, 1988). Heppner used Kranzler's book to jar his memory of certain events as well as to add details that naturally had slipped his mind after more than four decades. Despite the upper middle-class status of his family, Heppner was the object of antisemitic remarks and physical abuse as the only Jewish child in a grade school from which he was later expelled. It was Kristallnacht (crystal night), November 9, 1938, the preview to the Holocaust, however, that served as the catalyst alerting his family to leave Germany. Admission to Shanghai was not a problem since no visa was required, but it was necessary for Heppner's mother to give two impressionist paintings to a receptive travel agent, who collected art, as a bribe for mother and son to sail to Shanghai. His father and sister were to come later after the family's business was concluded, an opportunity fate never allowed. Book Reviews 97 The introduction to Shanghai was emotionally distressing. The city had become notorious by the 1930s as a haven for outlaws, beggars, racketeers, and pickpockets, and life was further complicated by bad food, the daily collection of corpses on the street, and children abandoned by parents "incapable of feeding them. Nevertheless, Heppner's assertive curiosity led him to explore the streets and alleys of Shanghai, becoming familiar with the city that would be his home and livelihood for the next eight years. Despite his lack of training and a trade, Heppner survived by working at various jobs; first at a toy store in the French concession, then as a clerk in a bookstore, and later selling used typewriters where he observed repair methods, a technology that later would serve him well in getting established in the United States, and finally in a bakery, an occupation that gave him the advantage of extra bread. A com~on method of obtaining money was the sale of personal items; Heppner's mother sold her treasured Persian lamb coat to the Far East Manager of the Standard Oil Co., thus giving the Heppners sufficient funds to pay the rent and buy food for three years. The picture ofspartan living described by Heppner was grim. Housing conditions were very poor: a small room with one bathroom on a floor reeking with the odor of "honey buckets"; raw sewage sometimes seeping into water pipes, so that items touched by the water had to be washed with potassium permanganate; clothes laundered in cold water with soap substitutes; and of course the need to boil all drinking water. As more refugees poured into Shanghai, especially after the spring of 1939, they were put into one offive heime (camps). Living conditions were extremely primitive-up to a hundred and fifty men, women, and children lived in large rooms where light and air were at...