Shanghai Ghetto

In 1939, in a forgotten theater of World War II, thousand of Jews fled from the encroaching Nazi forces halfway across the world to Shanghai. There, they formed a small community that was able to live in relative peace until the Japanese later asserted their strength. Still, as if by kismet, going to China saved these Jews from concentration camps. Shanghai Ghetto documents some of the history around this section of Shanghai where the Jews settled, giving a straightforward account by some survivors and historians, complemented with archival footage and photographs. What is really amazing is that this entire episode was relatively unknown prior to this documentary, and will probably still be for a while. Thematically, it is similar to Into the Arms of Strangers, an amazing documentary that retold the story of Jewish children transported to England. Shanghai Ghetto does not even come close to approaching the emotional intensity of that film, but it is a nice complement.

Martin Landau (The Majestic, Ready to Rumble) provides the narration for Dana Janklowicz and Amir Mann. They trace the lives of a group of the Jewish immigrants, from their childhoods in various European countries, to their experiences within Shanghai. What is immediately obvious is how quickly their lives changed under Hitler. One day there were children, happily playing with their neighbors, and soon they became pariahs from their neighbors and friends. Russian and Baghdadi Jews were already settled and prosperous in Shanghai, so when the European Jews began migrating there, they helped set up communities where the new refuges could live and survive. Needless to say, living in Shanghai came as pure culture shock to most of the European Jews.

Watching Shanghai Ghetto is fascinating is because so little was widely known about it. At times, it feels like Janklowicz and Mann were looking for extra information. They are running a race against time, since many of the people who were children at the time of World War II are elderly. The footage they have is amazing, yet there is one clip of a woman on a cart going across the street they show three times. It also seems like much of the background information about the people is extraneous. It is nice to listen do and does help present a fuller picture of events, but was probably included to pad the running time. However, this shouldn't discount the powerful stories told within.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Not Rated, but contains some mature themes, a PG or possibly a PG-13.

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