Farewell, Shang­hai

Angel Wagen­stein; Deliana Sime­ono­va and Eliz­a­beth Frank, trans.
  • Review
By – February 24, 2012

There was still a place for some Jew­ish refugees from Nazi Ger­many in 1938, and it was vir­tu­al­ly the only place: the open city of Shang­hai, to which some 20,000 Ger­man and Aus­tri­an Jews, plus a few thou­sand from oth­er coun­tries, found their way. To sur­vive in this city of extreme pover­ty and daz­zling wealth, these accom­plished artists and intel­lec­tu­als were forced to for­sake the skilled and tal­ent­ed occu­pa­tions that had brought them com­fort and suc­cess in Europe. Life in the Shang­hai slums and the ghet­to-like quar­ter, Hongku, required sub­mis­sion to the real­i­ty of work­ing in menial jobs and the many indig­ni­ties that forced sub­servience can inflict. 

Play­ing out against this back­ground are the sto­ries of sev­er­al rich­ly por­trayed refugees, whose strik­ing lives are picked up as they pre­pare to leave Ger­many, through their flight to Chi­na, their des­per­ate lives there, and their final depar­ture at the war’s end. While these men and women strive to main­tain their civil­i­ty and human­i­ty, they brush up against the Japan­ese war­riors who have invad­ed Chi­na, a Nazi advance guard sit­u­at­ed there, and Chi­nese agi­ta­tors. Mas­ter­ful­ly depict­ed sub­plots por­tray the ten­sion, intrigue, and infamy that arose from the strife among these var­i­ous forces. 

In a con­clud­ing note, Wagen­stein describes the ori­gin of his char­ac­ters in the real peo­ple whose lives inhab­it this nov­el. This is a work that brings a new and mov­ing dimen­sion to our knowl­edge of the Holocaust.

Claire Rudin is a retired direc­tor of the New York City school library sys­tem and for­mer librar­i­an at the Holo­caust Resource Cen­ter and Archives in Queens, NY. She is the author of The School Librar­i­an’s Source­book and Chil­dren’s Books About the Holocaust.

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