Prelude to World War II in the Pacific
A Pivotal Day for Shanghai Refugees
Emigration of stateless Jews from Nazi occupied lands to Shanghai began around 1938. An envelope mailed to a stateless person in Vienna from the Committee for the Assistance of European Jewish Refugees in Shanghai-Immigration Department, censored by the Nazis, is shown in figure one. The envelope contained a letter stating the status of future immigration to Shanghai.
Shortly after all the refugees somehow adjusted to their primitive surroundings in a country that was strange to them, a new period of uncertainty erupted; the attack of Pearl Harbor by Japan.
Strolling with my wife last month along Pearl Harbor while visiting our first grandchild in Hawaii, reminded me of the attack of that harbor on the 7” of December, 1941, the day President Roosevelt called “A date which will live in infamy.” The surprise air strike of Pearl Harbor by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan had cost the lives of 2403 US servicemen and 68 civilians, and sunk or seriously damaged 21 ships of the US Pacific Fleet.
A headline in large bold-face letters from one of many newspapers reporting the attack is illustrated in figure four.
A memorial that I visited with my wife, built directly over the battleship Arizona, one of five ships sunk during the attack with 1102 men buried under water and oil still emanating from its hull, is shown in figure five.
After the attack was made public in Shanghai Hongkew my father made the following rhetorical statement that is still remembered by yours truly after 63 years: “What will happen to us now:” Shanghai was considered by most immigrants as only a very temporary place of refuge till it was safe to return again to their former place of origin or to immigrate to another country. This, however, was not the case as 18,000 displaced persons became stranded after the attack of Pearl Harbor, in a poverty-stricken and war-torn part of the world called Shanghai Hongkew.
There were a small percentage of refugees among the last wave of immigrants that were able to leave Shanghai before the war had started. An example are two postcards shown in figure six and figure seven respectively, that were sent by a man to his son. The first was mailed in 1939 from Austria to Shanghai; the second postcard went to the United States. Note, that the letter arrived at a time when emigrating out of Shanghai was no longer possible.
The larger percentage of stateless Jews were less fortunate, and thus, their attempt to secure a passage to another country before the war, resulted in futility. A picture postcard shown in figure eight that was sent by a refugee from Shanghai to Vienna, tells about his hope to leave soon for America.
Although the war was already in progress, and commercial ships were no longer at sea, there was still hope for receiving financial assistance from overseas. A postcard shown in figure nine was written by my father to his brother-in-law in London, requesting a sum of money to be sent by wire from Switzerland to Shanghai.
Almost five years elapsed from the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor to the Japanese surrender signed on the battleship Missouri, illustrated in figure ten. A photo taken during our visit to Hawaii of the now famous battleship is shown in figure 11
The capitulation by Japan that ended WW1I, shown in a headline in figure 12 and 13, brought new hope to the world for lasting peace, and for all Shanghailanders to embark upon a new life in a country of their choice.