In the Tilanqiao area of Hongkou District, Shanghai, there is a Jewish Refugees Memorial Hall. From 1938 to 1941, 20,000 European Jews took refuge in Shanghai to escape Nazi persecution. The memorial hall was originally the Moses Hall established by Jewish expatriates. There is a list wall of Shanghai Jewish refugees in the courtyard. At the beginning of its establishment, only 13,732 names were engraved, but now it has increased to 18,578. This is the result of 83-year-old Sonia Muhlberg’s hard work recording and organizing since 2000.
Sonia was one of the hundreds of “Shanghai babies” born in the Jewish refugee area of Shanghai that year. She told the reporter of “Global People”: “I love Shanghai, and this is my home.” The historical materials she collected made the “Shanghai story” of Jewish refugees rescued by the Chinese people more vivid.
The story of Sonia’s family begins with a thrilling escape. Her father, Hermann, and her mother, Elise, both German Jews, met and married in Frankfurt. After the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they implemented anti-Semitic policies. In November 1938, the Nazis created “Crystal Night” and intensified their persecution of Jews. Hermann was taken to Dachau concentration camp.
After Alice learned that her husband had been arrested, she anxiously searched for ways to rescue her husband. By chance, she learned that the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands was issuing Chinese visas to Jews. She immediately asked her cousin Eugene who lived in the Netherlands to help, and took the application form that Eugene got to the Frankfurt Police Station. After Elise promised the Gestapo to “leave Germany immediately”, Hermann was released. The two fled to Italy with 10 marks in cash and a small amount of clothing.
On March 29 of the following year, they boarded a cruise ship bound for Shanghai. When she arrived in Shanghai in April, Alice was pregnant. On October 26, “Shanghai Baby” Sonia was born.
Sonia Parents Jewish Refugee Status Questionnaire.
Sonia sighed more than once: “If my parents hadn’t been so brave, I wouldn’t be here today.” When many Western countries refused to accept Jewish refugees, Chinese diplomats such as He Fengshan, the Chinese Consul General in Vienna at the time, risked their lives. At great risk, they issued Chinese visas to Jews, opening up the “road of life” to China for them.
When the Hermans arrived in Shanghai, Hongkou and other places had been occupied by the Japanese army, and the concession area had become an “isolated island”. With the help of kind-hearted Shanghai residents, Jewish communities and international rescue organizations, Jewish refugees settled down in Shanghai. In Sonia’s memory, their family’s life at that time was not rich, but very warm. In order to subsidize his family, Hermann worked as a peddler selling eggs. Sonia recalled: “He was very skilled in his movements. He held four eggs with one finger, and stretched them out to the light from the window. He could immediately see which eggs were good and which ones were not so good, and then classified them into different categories. basket.”
Sonia experienced many “firsts” in her life in Shanghai. When she was a child, her mother often told her the story of Snow White, but Sonia, who had never seen Snow White, could hardly imagine what “skin as white as snow” looked like. Just at this time, it was snowing in Shanghai. Herman climbed onto the roof to collect a small basin of snow for his daughter. Sonia touched a little snow with her hand, put it in her mouth and tasted it: it was white and cool. For the first time, she knew the meaning of “pure white as snow”.
With the help of Shanghai citizens, the Jewish refugee community has its own school and various social organizations. Sonia and many “Shanghai babies” entered the Jewish refugee school to study. In her memory, the Chinese people are warm and friendly. My father’s Chinese employer had a daughter with whom he became good friends. At that time, she didn’t have any toys at home, so she just imitated the Shanghai girls around her and danced with rubber bands. After returning to Shanghai many years later, she deliberately packed a handful of colorful rubber bands in her pocket. Many Chinese are not rich themselves, but they are happy to help refugees. Mr. Jin, who opened a rice shop, used one month’s income to treat a Jewish child. The child’s parents gave him a beautiful handbag because they could not repay him. This handbag is collected in the memorial hall.
The Japanese army did not spare the Jewish refugees. At the end of 1941, the Pacific War broke out, and the Japanese army immediately cut off the channels for Jewish refugees to receive international aid. In 1943, the Japanese army set up a “Restricted Residential Area for Stateless Refugees” in the Tilanqiao area, and drove Jewish refugees into this one-square-kilometer area, where they were not allowed to go out freely. Life was even more difficult for Sonia’s family. It was not until Japan’s unconditional surrender in 1945 that the hard times came to an end.
During his asylum in Shanghai, Herman, who was originally left-leaning, made many Jewish left-wing friends. Some of his friends helped the Chinese Anti-Japanese Organization. Dr. Rosent, a Jewish refugee from Shanghai, also went to Yancheng, northern Jiangsu, to join the New Fourth Army, and became a special member of the Communist Party of China in 1942. He served successively as an advisor to the Health Department of the New Fourth Army and the Health Minister of the First Column of the Northeast Democratic Alliance Army.
In 1947, Sonia’s family returned to Germany. Sonia became a teacher as an adult, got married and had children, but she never forgot Shanghai and kept in touch with many Shanghai Jewish refugees. She said: “My father once told me that if something happens, you can go back to Shanghai at any time, because you have a Shanghai birth certificate.”
In 1998, Sonia, who had been away from Shanghai for nearly 51 years, finally returned to her birthplace , visited No. 954 Xuchang Road, where she last lived in Shanghai. Nearly 60 years old, she seems to have become that little girl shuttling back and forth in the alleys again.
In February 2000, Sonia learned from a friend that there was a list of Shanghai Jewish refugees in Vienna. After many twists and turns, she found the list and included it in the book “Shanghai in Exile” co-authored by herself. But she doesn’t think the list is complete. From then on, she began to collect and organize the list of Jewish refugees in Shanghai. She said: “The Nazis deprived Jews of their rights in the concentration camps, even the right to have their own name. The story of asylum in Shanghai is just the opposite. I feel that I have a responsibility to let the names of every survivor who survived because of Shanghai be known.”
Left: In 1945, Sonia was studying at the Shanghai Jewish School. Right: On September 3, 2014, Sonia checked the names of refugees in front of the Jewish refugee list wall in Shanghai.
In 2007, the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Memorial Hall was established. Sonia soon worked with the memorial team to establish a Shanghai Jewish refugee database. In the following years, Sonia traveled all over the world, continuing to collect information about Shanghai Jews. In 2014, the Shanghai Jewish Refugee List Wall was completed, but Sonia continued to collect information. She also appeared in seminars and reports around the world, telling people the story of Jewish refugees being protected in Shanghai. She also returned to Shanghai many times to participate in the reunion activities of Jewish refugees, etc., and participated in the shooting of related documentaries.
On June 18, 2019, the German Consul General in Shanghai presented Sonia with the Federal Cross issued by German President Steinmeier. This is the highest honor medal of the German government in the field of social activities. In June 2020, the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Memorial was expanded, and she donated the boat tickets and refugee registration forms used by her parents to come to Shanghai that year to the memorial. On May 31, 2022, she won the title of the second “Silk Road Friendship Envoy”.
Sonia once said: “Many people in German society are not familiar with this period of history. As long as I have the opportunity, I am happy to tell this extraordinary story to ordinary Germans.” As Chen Jian, director of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, said : “She has special feelings for China and Shanghai.”
was born in a Jewish refugee family in Shanghai in 1939, returned to Germany in 1947, returned to Shanghai in 1998, and began collecting data on Jewish refugees in Shanghai in 2000 , and later assisted the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum in the finishing work. In 2022, he will be awarded the title of “Silk Road Friendship Envoy”.