Exo­dus to Shang­hai: Sto­ries of Escape from the Third Reich

Steve Hochstadt

  • Review
By – May 13, 2013

I have been wait­ing for this book for decades. The hero­ic escape to Shang­hai dur­ing the Holo­caust is the least known chap­ter of the Holo­caust expe­ri­ence. Steve Hochstadt, the author of Exo­dus to Shang­hai, does not mere­ly cite sta­tis­tic but pro­vides a face to this remark­able expe­ri­ence. It is a col­lec­tive mem­oir of one hun­dred inter­views, a clas­sic and pace­set­ter of oral his­to­ry, told with dra­ma and pathos. The Ger­man Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty is sud­den­ly uproot­ed, los­ing home, job, pos­ses­sions, and cit­i­zen­ship. But where to go is the prob­lem. Sur­pris­ing­ly, the Chi­nese con­sul in Vien­na real­ized that Shang­hai, not Chi­na, had no immi­gra­tion pro­ce­dures, and offered every­one a visa to Shang­hai, which could be used to obtain an exit visa from the Nazis. The wel­come to Shang­hai includ­ed unbear­able heat, dis­ease, filth, lack of hygiene, no toi­lets, lan­guage bar­ri­ers, insects, pol­lut­ed water, noise pol­lu­tion, and dead bod­ies every­where. In addi­tion there was a civ­il war, and an inva­sion by Japan­ese forces. 

From this wel­come, and start­ing with zero, a com­mu­ni­ty of aver­age Jews pulled togeth­er, pooled their resources, and sur­vived. They learned to boil water and boil every­thing, had a com­mu­nal kitchen, staffed a refugee hos­pi­tal, over­came obsta­cles, and pro­duced a vibrant com­mu­ni­ty. The mag­ic of oral his­to­ry, with excel­lent ques­tions by the author, intro­duces the read­er to the month­ly opera and the­ater per­for­mances, dai­ly news­pa­pers of high qual­i­ty, radio pro­grams in Ger­man, Eng­lish, and Yid­dish, learn­ing new trades, pro­duc­ing a Lit­tle Vien­na of cafés, cof­fee shops and music, lend­ing libraries, a refugee school of 600 stu­dents, com­e­dy per­for­mances, refugee sym­pho­ny orches­tra, and even a magi­cian. The author even accu­rate­ly describes how chil­dren and teenagers sur­vived. You will be sur­prised to read that teenagers were fre­quent­ly the bread earn­ers, and cre­at­ed a Shang­hai Mil­lion­aire Monop­oly game, and even wrote plays and read many books. 
The author is to be com­mend­ed for includ­ing a superb bib­li­og­ra­phy of pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary sources, films, maps, charts, and pho­tos. If there is one book to read about the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence in Shang­hai, this is the one.
Rab­bi Mar­vin Tokay­er served as the an Eng­lish-speak­ing, uni­ver­si­ty-trained, rab­bi for the Far East, from India to Japan. Author of 20 books in Japan­ese on Judaica and Japan, Rab­bi Tokay­er draws on a half cen­tu­ry of per­son­al expe­ri­ences in Asia and a wealth of knowl­edge about Jews and the Far East. He is skilled in weav­ing togeth­er col­or­ful char­ac­ters and cap­ti­vat­ing sto­ries of Jews in Chi­na, Japan, India, Bur­ma, Sin­ga­pore, and beyond.

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