Book Chat: Exodus to Shanghai

By Hannah Lee

Heartbreaking are the testimonies of Jews who sought every avenue of escape from Nazi-controlled Europe, but were foiled at every turn, with diplomatic and bureaucratic obstacles. They had limited access to accurate news. They had limited resources to buy their freedom and even the ones with means and the forethought found themselves victims of covetous maneuvers. Nazi regulations forbade bringing most valuables from the country and limited cash to 10 Marks or $10 per person.

First-hand testimonies are found in a book published in July, Exodus to Shanghai: Stories of Escape from the Third Reich by Steve Hochstadt. As part of the academic Palgrave Macmillian studies in oral history, Professor Hochstadt’s research focused on the odyssey of 16,000 Jews who escaped from Nazi-run Europe and found refuge in Shanghai, China when all other doors had slammed shut. The book distilled the transcripts of 13 narrators chosen from over 100 oral histories conducted with the survivors.

Most of the narrators left their homes in the frantic and brief period between the Anschluss (the occupation and annexation) of Austria in March 1938 and the beginning of war in September 1939. They came from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia and represent a cross section of all refugees. The book does not cover the odyssey of the religious Jews from Poland, including the entire Mirrer Yeshiva, who spoke Yiddish and dressed differently from the cosmopolitan Berliners and the Viennese.

Desperate and resourceful women found out that a visa to Shanghai could release their men from concentration camps. Assistance came from the philanthropic organizations, Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden in Germany and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in New York, including tickets to Shanghai for the poorest families.

In the 1930s, Shanghai was the banking center of Asia and “an open port where the Chinese Nationalists and Communists, organized gangsters, Western capitalists, and the Japanese military competed for authority,” wrote Hochstadt. “Extremes of wealth and poverty jostled in the crowded streets.” Upon arrival, the refugees experienced culture shock in the form of the tropical heat, an alien language, and wartime inflation.

The marvel was that the refugees quickly developed a community in exile, with Jewish institutions and forms of self-governance. The Austrians even created a café life on the streets of their new home. The most ambitious and successful creation was the Shanghai Jewish Youth Association School, affectionately known as the Kadoorie School. About 600 students enrolled in a curriculum of religious and secular subjects, taught in English by the refugees and modeled after Jewish schools in Germany.

“The remarkable thing about Jewish life in Shanghai until 1943 is that there was no persecution,” wrote Hochstadt. The Japanese already controlled most of the city but, while they were allies of the Nazis, they adopted a completely different policy toward Jews. They finally took action on February 18, 1943, when they forced all “stateless refugees” who’d arrived after 1937 to live within less than a square mile in the neighborhood of Hongkou. However, the February Proclamation showed “the ambivalent nature of the Japanese attitude… the word Jew was not mentioned in the Proclamation ,” and the existing Baghdadi and Russian Jewish communities in Shanghai were spared.

With the end of the war, these refugees again had to find new places to live. Nearly all refugee families wanted to leave Shanghai as soon as possible. “Very few had been able to create a life they wanted to continue in China. Remaining in post-colonial China…meant learning and adopting Chinese culture; only a handful of European Jews accepted that challenge,” wrote Hochstadt.

Illustrative of the enormous difficulties for displaced persons after the war, one of the last groups to leave Shanghai, 106 of them without U.S. visas, were supposed to travel across the Pacific on the “General Gordon,” but the Chinese refused to allow the ship to anchor offshore.  So, on May 1950,

the refugees had to take a train to Tientsin, then board barges in heavy seas to get out to the ship. When they arrived in the United States, they were put on a sealed train and transported across the country to Ellis Island…In June, another boat took them to Bremerhaven [Germany], and they entered DP camps, where they stayed for one more year. Finally they were given visas to the United States in 1951.

By the time of the Chinese Communists’ Cultural Revolution in 1966, the Jewish communities of Shanghai “were just a memory.”

The book gives the history of the slight majority of the Shanghai refugees who came to the United States. Life in the United States meant assimilation, letting go of their German culture. They had to adjust to a new world order. One refugee, Lisbeth Loewenberg, reminisced about her adjustment to stability:

My first job that I found after one week when I walked around, that was with Collier’s magazine. This place took subscriptions, they had salesmen go running around and selling subscriptions to Collier’s and Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan, and so on, and I processed these orders. People took subscriptions for one year. I said, “But how do people know that after one year they will still be at that address?” I couldn’t believe in permanence anymore. I was completely shocked that some people took two-year subscriptions. It floored me. But you don’t know where you are going to be tomorrow, was my reaction. And life has actually always seemed to me not permanent.  It’s all just transitory.

Remarkably, these refugees, most of whom had been children or teens during the years in Shanghai, can even look back and say, as did Doris Grey, that they were “the best years” of her life. Another, Gerald Kohbieter, said, “It was a lifesaver. The Chinese were polite people, and they put up with a lot with us…There were some frictions, but all in all, I must say there were good hosts.”

The resilience of youth allowed many of them adapt to, and even profit from their refugee experiences. Lisbeth Loewenberg said,

All the barriers fell. It didn’t make a difference, what does your family do…because everyone was there and started from scratch, nil, nothing, in Shanghai. All things being equal, if all people start under the same adverse conditions, this is where your true ability will show or your true survival instincts or your enterprise…Don’t ever blame the condition, blame yourself.  Because under the most impossible conditions, some people will make it one way or another.

A friend pointed out to me that W. Michael Blumenthal who served as United States Secretary of the Treasury under President Jimmy Carter was one of these refugees.  He arrived in the United States in 1947 at age 21.

Professor Hochstadt earned his Ph.D. in History from Brown University, taught at Bates College in Maine for 27 years, and is now professor at Illinois College. He has just published another Holocaust oral history, Death and Love in the Holocaust: The Story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt (Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine).

http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/2962/book-chat-exodus-to-shanghai

How the Israel Philharmonic Saved Jews From the Nazis

By Hannah Lee

 

I did not hear of this in time to write about it for Yom HaShoah or Yom Ha’Atzmaut, but I didn’t want to sit on it for a whole year.  It was aired on Israel’s Channel 2 in April.  My husband’s maternal uncle, Yaacov Mishori, emeritus principal horn player of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and a former member of the orchestra management team, appears on-camera as one of the commentators.  The two video clips together total one hour of viewing; they are in Hebrew with Hebrew subtitles, but some of the people interviewed speak in English.

http://vimeo.com/40602655

http://vimeo.com/40607578

When you search the origins of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), you get a brief paragraph on Wikipedia:

The IPO was founded by violinist Bronisław Huberman in 1936, at a time when many Jewish musicians were being fired from European orchestras. Its inaugural concert took place in Tel Aviv on December 26, 1936, and was conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

However, the full story is much more heartbreaking.

Bronislaw Huberman, born in Częstochowa, Poland in 1882, was a child prodigy on the violin.  At the tender age of 14, he performed the violin concerto of Johannes Brahms in the presence of the composer, who cried and was “stunned by the quality of his playing.”  ["Around this time the six-year- old Arthur Rubinstein saw one of Huberman's concerts.  Rubinstein's parents invited Huberman back to their house and the two boys struck up what would become a lifetime friendship."]

During the ’30s, Huberman sought a way to help his fellow musicians who were facing persecution and murder at the hands of the Nazis.  He devised a plan that used the guise of recruiting musicians for a newly created Palestine Orchestra, funding the effort with his own money.  There were only 72 spots in the orchestra.  He auditioned his musicians, standing with his back to the musicians, because he knew that anyone he did not select would most likely perish during wartime Europe.  The chosen ones were all excellent musicians of high-standing.  Some even defected to the kibbutzim shortly after arriving, allowing Huberman the opportunity to recruit additional Jews.  The languages spoken by the early members of the orchestra were German, Polish, Hungarian, and Russian.  The orchestra later changed its name to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and it played “Hatikvah” at the Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948 at the Tel Aviv Museum.

In a similar manner was the welcome offered in American academia, including the creation of the Committee on Social Thought in 1941 at the University of Chicago by the historian John U. Nef, the economist Frank Knight, the anthropologist Robert Redfield, and Robert M. Hutchins, then President of the university.   Lore passed down by the students say that the new department was created to provide a convenient haven for refugees fleeing from wartime Europe.  Over the years, temporary and permanent refugee members of the Committee have included Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Allan Bloom, Friederich Hayek, Leszek Kolakowski, Edward Levi, Paul Ricoeur, and Karl J. Weintraub.

The video clips are bracketed by the playing of Brahms in Częstochowa’s synagogue (now a concert hall) by Joshua Bell, an American with Jewish maternal ancestry.  There were dual historical and personal connections, because Bell now plays on a Stradivarius violin called the Gibson ex Huberman (the names of its first two owners), which was made in 1713.  It had been stolen twice in its lifetime: once for three days in 1919 and the second time on February 28, 1936 from the dressing room of Carnegie Hall.  Huberman never saw it again in his lifetime.  The violin only re-surfaced in 1985 with the deathbed confession of the thief, a former nightclub musician named Julian Altman.  Bell was able to buy the violin for just under $4 million dollars, right before it was to be sold to a German industrialist to become part of a collection.   Bell’s maternal grandmother was from Minsk and his maternal grandfather was born in Israel, so Bell mused on the video that “he might have listened to Huberman play.”

http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/2195/how-the-israel-philharmonic-saved-jews-from-the-nazis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the Nazis Co-Opted Science for Their Goals

By Hannah Lee

Now on display at the Free Library’s main branch is a traveling exhibit from the Holocaust Memorial Museum on how the Nazis used science to justify their contemptible work, titled “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.”  I was horrified to learn that all German geneticists believed in eugenics, including the Jewish ones such as Dr. Richard Goldschmidt (who re-established himself at the University of California at Berkeley).  This felt devastating comparable to discovering in the permanent exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History that there had been rabbis of the American South who supported slavery.

In the time since Darwin’s publication of “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” in 1859, others have sought to apply his breakthrough biological concepts to sociology and politics.  Arguing that modern medicine, charity, and welfare have obstructed the natural selection of by keeping “defectives” alive to reproduce, these Social Darwinists have lobbied for legislation against free and natural procreation.

Germany was the leader in medicine and science in the early 20th century.  Dr. Alfred Ploetz, a physician and economist, published a major treatise on Rassenhygiene, the German term for eugenics.  He hoped that racial hygiene would help solve problems linked to the nation’s rapid industrialization and urbanization.

Dr. Eugene Fischer gained international renown for his 1913 study of “racial mixing” in the German colony in Southwest Africa.  He shared the “respectable” antisemitism common among Germany’s educated middle classes and academic elite during the 1920′s, though “expressed largely in private and in measured tones.”  Dr. Otmar von Verschuer studied twins for hereditary traits to criminality, feeblemindedness, tuberculosis, and cancer.  He typified academics whose interest in Germany’s “national regeneration” provided significant motivation for scientific research.

A 1920 treatise by Karl Binding, a jurist, and Alfred Hoche, a professor of psychiatry, lead to Berlin’s first eugenics bureau that certified fitness for marriage.  Although sterilization was illegal in Germany until 1933, some doctors were performing the procedure in secret.

In the United States, a 1924 law in Virginia prohibited intermarriage between whites and persons of “other blood.”  Carrie Buck was committed to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeblemindedness in Lynchburg after bearing a child out of wedlock.  Her mother was already on state support, so she was sterilized.  By 1933, 26 states had laws permitting sterilization on eugenic grounds.  From 1909-1933, some 16,000 people were sterilized in the United States, half of them in the state of California.  Roman Catholics and supporters of individual rights opposed eugenics.

In the 1930′s, Norway, Sweden, and Finland along with parts of Switzerland and Canada had enacted sterilization laws.  In Great Britain, it was proposed but not enacted.  But, nowhere was there the scale of execution as in Germany which included persons living at home or in private clinics and hospitals.   Hearings were pro forma and lasted a few minutes.  These routine decisions to sterilize were seldom reversed on appeal.  For women, sterilization meant full anesthesia and two weeks in the hospital.  For men, it was on an outpatient basis.  In Germany, about 5,000 died as the result of surgery and over 90% were women.  Feeblemindedness was a plastic label applied to poor, uneducated persons from large families dependent on state support.  There were over 400,000 people sterilized between 1934 to 1945.

Doctors joined the Nazi party earlier and in greater numbers than any other professional group.  German medicine was historically conservative and many, especially the younger physicians, hoped their careers would improve under a new regime as Jews were ousted from positions in overcrowded medical fields.  Many also endorsed the party’s support of eugenics and racial science.

From January 1940 to August 1941, over 70,000 institutionalized adults were killed in gas chambers in Germany and Austria.  The victims included people with schizophrenia, feeblemindedness, and epilepsy.  (Captured Soviet soldiers and Polish prisoners were used to test the operation of the gas chambers.)  Poisonous carbon monoxide gas was used, in a program code-named Operation T-4.  Dr. Friedrich Mennecke and his wife Eva expanded the inclusion criteria to include concentration camp residents too sick to work and later to the general Jewish prisoners.  By the spring of 1946, all Jewish psychiatric patients had been murdered.

Dr. Julius Hallervorden, a neuropathologist at the Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research in Berlin, received brains extracted from euthanasia, many from children killed at the nearby Brandenburg-Gordon clinic.  He ecstatically wrote about the specimens: “There was wonderful material among those brains, beautiful, mental defectiveness, malformations, and early infantile diseases.”  Dr. Ernst Wentzler ran a clinic that served wealthy families and he developed methods to treat premature infants and children with severe birth defects, including an incubator dubbed “the Wentzler warmer.”  He also supported ending the lives of the “incurably ill.”

The Nazi party from 1939 to 1945 was the primary coordinator of the pediatric euthanasia (“mercy death”)  program.  It originally targeted children younger than 3 years, but it later expanded to include older children.  The methods used were: overdoses of the sedative Luminal (the brand name for phenobarbital); starvation; deadly injections of morphine; and asphyxiation by carbon monoxide.  A letter from the Reich Ministry of the Interior directed midwives and physicians to register all children born with severe birth defects.  These professionals were unaware that the information was fed to the euthanasia program.  The Final Solution of the Nazi party (the systematic genocide of European Jews) determined the first victims to be infants and children with physical and mental disabilities.  Over 5,000 such children were killed.  Parents received letters falsifying the cause of death.

Using a chart of Mendel’s law of heredity, medical experts provided Hitler a purported claim for a law prohibiting Jews from marrying persons of “German blood.”  The Nüremburg Laws and the related Marital Health Law of October 1935 banned unions between hereditary “healthy” and “diseased” persons.  About 5,000 individuals of Jewish and Jewish hybrid unions were killed, many at the Brandenburg clinic.

In 1936, the Reich Office for Combating Homosexuality and Abortion stepped up efforts to prevent behavior seen as lowering the birth rate while new laws permitted abortions for Jewish and genetically “diseased” women.

Scientists considered racial types as “ideal constructs” never perfectly realized.  Politically, more important than physical appearance were lineage and deep Germanic roots.  Scientists regarded most Germans to be of “mixed” European lineage, corresponding to geographic origin: Nordic, Alpine, Mediterranean, and Balkan.  The psychologist Robert Ritter lent legitimacy, claiming data that showed that most Gypsies were offspring of “highly inferior” “habitual criminals.”  Dr. Eugene Fischer, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics taught courses for elite Nazi SS doctors and provided opinions on paternity and racial purity of individuals, including the hybrid offspring of Jewish and non-Jewish German couples.

In an insightful article in The New Republic from May 3, 1941, Michael Straight wrote about the protest by the Bishop of Münster, Clemens August von Galen, thus: “Persons were not killed for mercy.  They were killed because they could no longer manufacture guns in return for the food which they consumed; because the German hospitals were needed for wounded soldiers; because their death was the ultimate logic of the National Socialist doctrine of racial superiority and the survival of the physically fit.”  This article was used to drum up American support for entering the war.

After World War II, these immoral men and women of science met with mixed justice.  Dr. Paul Nitsche was executed in 1948 for his war crimes.  Dr. Carl Clauberg was sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes related to sterilization experiments, released early, and died in 1957. Dr. Josef Mengele, with doctorates in anthropology and genetic medicine, fled abroad and died in Brazil in 1979.

Others enjoyed post-war careers: Dr. Eugene Fischer became professor emeritus at the University of Freiburg and he died in 1967.  Dr. Otmar von Verschuer, a mentor of Mengele, established one of West Germany’s largest genetic research centers in Münster and he died in 1969.  Dr. Ernst Rüdin, who developed the Third Reich’s sterilization law, was classified as a nominal Nazi Party member and he died in 1952.

The fruits of the gruesome Nazi experiments remained active, such as Dr. Julius Hallervorden’s specimens from the euthanasia program which were used for study at the Brain Research Institute in Frankfurt until as recently as 1990.  He died in 1965.  Dr. Sophie Ehrhardt enjoyed a long academic career and her data on Gypsies from the Nazi years appeared in journals as late as 1974.  She died in 1990.  Dr. Ernst Wentzler set up pediatric practice in his hometown.  While he was questioned over his wartime activities, he was never prosecuted.  He died in 1973.

People may recoil by the mention of this exhibit, much less attend it.  But, if we as a society are to understand the developments of such gruesome manipulations of science and medicine, we must face the evidence.  ”Never again” means understanding history and educating ourselves to prevent its repetition.

“Deadly Medicine” will be on display at the Parkway Central Library, located at 1901 Vine Street, until July 8th.  This exhibition, which is free and open to the public, will be located in the second floor gallery.