Institute News

Exhibit on Jewish Refugees in Shanghai Opens at Jewish Museum in Prague

"Stranded in Shanghai,” an exhibit featuring testimonies from the Visual History Archive, opened at the Jewish Museum in Prague on Thursday, May 11.

Stranded in Shanghai” remembers the unique situation of a group of around 20,000 Central and Eastern European Jews (from Austria, Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia) who found a temporary haven in Shanghai during World War II.

An exhibit featuring Jewish refugees in Shanghai opened at the Jewish Museum in Prague. 

The exhibit is told mainly through the photographs of American photojournalist Arthur Rothstein, who took 22 photos of the Hongkew Ghetto in April 1946. In addition to these photos, there are artifacts and footage of the Jews 1941 arrival in Shanghai. The VHA is utilized in reels that play clips of testimony of refugees who escaped to Shanghai. These refugees had to travel for weeks to reach Shanghai and dealt with demands and issues unlike any other group of migrants.

One such refugee was Gerda Haas. Born in Berlin, Haas fled first to Czechoslovakia, then to Italy, then to France and finally to Shanghai. In July 1939, Haas arrived in Shanghai with her husband and baby, a year since she first left home. In Shanghai, Haas and her family lived in one room with no bathroom or kitchen. To support them, her husband learned to play the drums and went around to bars and clubs each night playing and singing. During the day he would pick up any odd jobs he could find. Haas herself worked as a waitress until they had to move to the ghetto, Hongkew after the Japanese invasion. The Germans had asked the Japanese to kill the Jews in China, but the Japanese refused to do more than keep them in the set district. Through it all, the Jewish community stuck together.

“Synagogues sprung up all around us. People who had one room made room for people to come in and pray,” Haas said in her testimony.

The “Stranded in Shanghai” curators hope that by including the testimony of the refugees themselves, they will allow the protagonists to tell their own story, rather than simply telling it through Rothstein, an outsider. One of those curators is Martin Šmok, USC Shoah Foundation’s Senior International Program Consultant based in the Czech Republic.

Though this exhibit is unique, it is the third exhibition focusing on refugees and migration to be on display at the Jewish Museum in Prague. “Stranded in Shanghai” will be on display until September 11.