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PURIM

 

In the Shanghai Ghetto

 

By

Ralph Harpuder 

 

In the city of Shanghai, thought in the late 30‘s as a strange and distant land, Jewish refugees were also celebrating the Festival of Purim with all its gaiety as described further in the article.
The ancient festival, celebrated this year on March 24, marks the deliverance of the Jews in the Persian Empire from a plan by Prime Minister Haman, to commit genocide. A painting by Jankel Adler called “The Purim Play,” is illustrated on a postage stamp from Israel in figure one. A Purim play at the Kadoorie School by children in costume is shown in figure 1A.

The plan by Haman was opposed by the intervention of Queen Esther who revealed to King Ahasweres that she was Jewish, and that the plan aimed to annihilate her people is diabolic. The Book of Esther is depicted on three stamps, also from Israel, perforated on a souvenir sheet, shown in figure two. During the Festival of Purim, it is customary to engage in merriment.

Many of the stateless Jewish refugees in Shanghai began to celebrate the Jewish festivals almost immediately after disembarkation even in the primitive conditions that greeted them upon their arrival.

An example is a whimsical newsletter called “Allotria” that was released in the Hongkew Ghetto in 1940, illustrated in figure three. Dedicated to the Celebration of Purim, it portrayed several entertainers and well known refugees of the community by way of caricature drawings. The center page of the newsletter is well illustrated in figure four.

A Purim happening that was sponsored by a Jewish sports organization called AHV (Alte Hernn Verein), took place shortly before the War at a popular restaurant in the Shanghai ghetto. The announcement is shown in figure five.

After the war had started, celebrations and performances began to slow down. The realization of the war began to surface as refugees from Nazi Europe were focusing primarily on how to survive the war.

One of the few performances that still took place before liberation was a Purim matinee at the Broadway Cinema on Wayside Road, starring, then, the popular Rosl Albach Gerstel, Raja Zomina, and well loved comedian, Herbert Zernik The announcement can be viewed in figure six.

The end of the war in September, 1945 brought new hope and vitality to the performing arts in the ghetto. Two Purim performances in 1946, one at the Kadoorie School, the other at the A/cock Saal, both starring Gerhard Gottschalk along with other popular entertainers, are shown in an announcement in a local newspaper in figure seven and figure eight respectively.

The Shanghai Jewish Youth Community Center (SJYCC), established under the guidance of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, has also contributed to the spirit of Purim with plays and dances. In the center‘s monthly newsletter, Future, illustrated in figure nine, an article appeared about their Purim Ball Dance held in March of 1947, a time when many of its members already left Shanghai. The article is shown in figure ten.

A number of musicians and comedians that were among the 18,000 refugees that came to Shanghai in the late 30‘s, continued to entertain audiences after they settled in America. An example is a Purim celebration that took place in San Francisco in 1948 starring several former entertainers of Hongkew. A brief column in a local newspaper telling about this event is shown in figure 11. Another Purim carnival that took place in Oakland, California in March of 1950 can be seen on the backside of a postcard in figure 12.

Most of the remaining Shanghailanders have by now become well assimilated, and today belong to different synagogues and cultural groups where they can continue to celebrate Purim and other festivals with people of different backgrounds and experiences.