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MOVIE REVIEWS IN BRIEF

Holocaust history from Shanghai

October 25, 2002|Kenneth Turan

When the world of German Jews fell apart in the late 1930s, with once-secure citizens desperate to flee Nazi persecution, only one unlikely place would accept them without visas: a couldn't-be-less-European city some 8,000 miles away. "Shanghai Ghetto" is a serious and thoughtful documentary look at how some 20,000 European Jews, first from Germany and then from Eastern Europe, came to call the commercial center of China home for the duration of the war.

Using archival footage, historians' comments, moving interviews with articulate survivors, and clandestine footage of those now-aged refugees returning to Shanghai, filmmakers Dana Janklowicz-Mann (whose father is one of those interviewed) and Amir Mann explore one of the lesser-known corners of Holocaust history.

Several accidents of fate made it possible for Shanghai to serve as a refuge, chief among them the fact that it was conquered by Japan in 1937, leading to a complex situation in which no country was responsible for checking new arrivals for visas. Once in Shanghai, the Jews in their heavy European clothing found themselves in a completely alien environment where "the streets smelled not like Chanel No. 5." Still, helped by the Chinese, they were able to create a self-sufficient society, complete with cafes, sports clubs and newspapers, that lasted until the Japanese confined them to an actual ghetto as the war with the U.S. intensified.

The greatest shock of all for these people, however, came when the conflict ended. "They concentrated on the misery of life in Shanghai," one historian says, only to find out "they were living in paradise compared to what happened to their brethren in Europe."

"Shanghai Ghetto": Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Exclusively at the Music Hall, Beverly Hills; Fallbrook 7, West Hills.

*

--Kenneth Turan

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