As thousands of German Jews sought refuge both before and during World War II, many ended up in Japanese-controlled Shanghai. The story of these roughly 23,000 refugees is chronicled in the 2002 documentary “Shanghai Ghetto.”
By that time thousands of Russian Jews already were living in Shanghai. They had fled civil war fighting in Siberia and Manchuria. Among them were the parents of Chandler resident George Goffman, who was born in Shanghai and lived there for almost four years.
“It’s very interesting to have a community like that living in a foreign country,” said Goffman, who will speak about his experiences after a screening of “Shanghai Ghetto” Sunday, Oct. 20 at the Temple Beth Sholom in Gilbert. The screening, which sold out in Phoenix when it debuted more than a decade ago, will begin at 7 p.m.
At the turn of the new millennium, two filmmakers snuck into China with two survivors and a digital camera to shoot at the site of the original Shanghai ghetto, unchanged since WWII. “Fleeing for their lives, these Jewish refugees journeyed to form a settlement in the exotic city, penniless and unprepared for their new life in the Far East,” the film’s description states.
“Most people are aware of what’s portrayed in the film,” Goffman, 68, said. “But I don’t think people are aware of the established Jewish community already there from Russia.”
Why Shanghai ended up as the city where thousands of Jews converged, Goffman called an “accident of history.”
The Shanghai ghetto, formally known as the Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees, was an area of approximately one square mile in the poorest and most crowded area of the city.
Goffman’s parents met in Shanghai, had two sons and eventually immigrated to Los Angeles in 1949. Goffman moved to Chandler in 1979 and recently retired.
“I don’t know of any other Jew in Arizona who lived the Shanghai ghetto,” Goffman said. “But in L.A., San Francisco and Seattle there are large groups, Shanghai Jewish clubs, as well as in Israel.”
Goffman twice retuned to Shanghai, first in 2007 — the year before China hosted the Summer Olympics — on a family vacation and again in 2009.
“Shanghai Ghetto” was awarded the Audience Choice and the Human Rights awards at the 2002 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
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