[ An End to Intolerance (Volume 5 -- June 1997) ]


Shelter Found
in Shanghai

Interview with Evelyn Pike-Rubin,
Survivor and Author of Ghetto Shanghai
(Shengold Publishers: New York, USA)


Shira Tydings, with interview assistance from students Ben Goldner, Matt Miller, Scott Goldstein, Jen Block, Chris Salierno, Marian England, Farnosh Family, and Matt Baskir.

I was born in Breslaw, Germany, which today is Breslaw, Poland. I am Jewish and come from an orthodox Jewish family, which means I come from an observant family with all the rituals, including keeping Kosher and observing the Sabbath. My parents were in a business that my mother had established before World War I, and they worked together. It was a paper and twine business and was quite successful.

[ Evelyn Pike-Rubin ]
Evelyn Pike-Rubin with Students

I was born right before Hitler came into power so the only Germany I remember as a little girl was Hitler's Germany, Nazi Germany. I started school in a Jewish nursery school, and then I started going when I was five years old to a Jewish day school, not a public school. I was very well aware of what was going on in Germany at the time because laws had come out restricting Jews from certain places, restricting them to go into stores. I was aware because some laws affected me as a little girl.

When I had taken swimming lessons, one day the signs went up saying 'No Jews Allowed.' When I was taking ice skating lessons, one day my parents took me to the park, and a big sign on the gate said 'No Jews Allowed.' Of course, for a little girl, four five years old, it was a very strange feeling since the other children were being allowed to go in, and I didn't think I looked different from anybody else. All of a sudden I was not allowed to participate.

When my parents saw that things were getting bad for the Jews in Germany after the Nuremberg laws in 1935, they were looking for ways to leave Germany. Leaving Germany, about 1940, was not a problem at all. The Nazis wanted to expel all the Jews from Germany and subsequently, of course, from their occupied territory. The problem was: if you leave a place, you have to have a place you can go. You can't just be floating around some place. This was a big problem because there weren't any countries that allowed us in. People got very desperate to try and find places to which they could go.

I am an only child. In early 1938, an edict went out that all Jews had to turn in their valuables. Valuables meant jewelry, gold and silver, flatware, anything that was sterling silver, anything that was gold, and anything that was precious stones. My mother had to turn in her engagement ring. My grandmother had to turn in her engagement ring and any other jewelry she had. All our flatware was sterling. You were allowed to keep brass and silver plate. Also, everybody was allowed to keep one gold wedding band and a gold watch. The Nazis gave receipts and a very token sum. That was just to say that they did not steal it.

When Hitler walked into Austria, Austrian Jews saw that they needed to leave in a great hurry. Somebody found that you could get to Shanghai, China -virtually at the other end of the world. In 1938 for a western European, and a western European Jew to just pick himself up and go to China - people just didn't do that! But, people started doing it. My parents started considering going there. But in the meantime, we were hoping to go to the United States. We had a quota number from the American government and a great-aunt of mine signed some papers, and we were hoping to go there. Shanghai was put on the back burner.

On November 9 and 10, 1938, what we call the "Night of Broken Glass," Kristallnacht in German, happened. Synagogues were burned all over Germany. Jewish shop windows were broken; shops were looted, and Jewish males over the age of 18 were arrested and sent to the various existing concentration camps. My mother at that time was in Berlin at the American Consulate, to see what the status of our visa was to come to the United States. I was alone with my grandmother and my father. My father decided to go into hiding at the time of November 9, 1938. He brought me over to a friend's house, and the Christian landlord at his place of business very kindly hid him in his attic.

On November 11, after the Germans made an announcement that this raid was over, my father came to pick me up where I was staying, and it so happened that the Gestapo was in the same building. He was arrested and sent to Buchenwald.

My mother had come back from Berlin and unfortunately, the moment that the first synagogue was put to the torch, the American Consulate closed their doors and no more visas were given out. We never received an American visa and my mother decided that, well, we must go to Shanghai. She went and purchased tickets for a ship leaving the following February, 1939 to go to Shanghai.

My father was released from Buchenwald three weeks after his incarceration. At that point in time, almost everybody who was arrested in that raid was released on the proviso that he and his family would leave Germany within a very short time. My father was given two months in which we could leave Germany. He had to go to sign in with the Gestapo every morning to say that he and his family would be leaving Germany within two months. Well, we had the tickets for Shanghai.

We took a train to Italy, and we boarded a Japanese ship, Hakusaki Maru, to leave from Naples for Shanghai. We left Naples on February 13, 1939 and arrived in Shanghai March 14, 1939. We were welcomed by some refugees who had arrived there before us. My mother had brought with her some salable personal possessions like linens and crystal which we did not have to turn in. With that, my father established a typewriter business with a Chinese mechanic. My mother worked with him, and we moved into a very pretty apartment.

The political situation of Shanghai was that the Japanese were the victors of the Sino-Japanese war of 1937 and loosely occupied that part of China. Shanghai at that point was divided into three sectors. One was called the International Foreign Settlement which was administered by the British, the French Concession which was administered by the French, and the sector called Honk Yu which was totally administered by the Japanese.

When we entered Shanghai, it was a Japanese immigration official who welcomed us. We lived in an apartment which was in the French Concession and was the nice part of the city. The Foreign Settlement was more like Manhattan with banks, branch offices of Foreign Terms (American and British), the government buildings, and so forth. Honk Yu was a slum area which had gotten the brunt of the war I mentioned. There were poor Chinese and poor Russian refugees who did not come with their possessions or were unable to sell them. It was in very bad shape.

I was eight and a half years old. I had not seen the inside of a class room since November, and my parents enrolled me in one of the many schools that were available to us, the Shanghai Jewish School. It was a British Jewish school and a part of the British school system. The curriculum was made up in Cambridge, England, sent to Shanghai, meticulously followed, sent back to Cambridge for marking, and Cambridge sent it back again and made the decisions if students should be promoted or not. There was a definite language difficulty with us children coming in from all parts of Europe. The administration had to think how to teach these children English quickly enough so that we could study in school. Their decision was to put all of us, whether we were five or twelve into kindergarten. Children will learn a language quickly at its most elementary level. Within four months, most of us spoke English well enough to be put in the grade proper to our age level.

The climate in Shanghai was very alien to the western Europeans. It was a subtropical climate. The winters were very cold, nasty, and damp with a lot of rain. It was pretty bad. The summers were even worse. The summers, because of the high humidity, had a temperature which could occasionally go as high as 140 in the shade, and it felt even more sometimes because of the high humidity. We tried not to go out between 12 and 2 and of course always wore a head covering. The sanitary conditions were even worse. We had to boil all drinking water at least five minutes past its boiling point; all fruits and vegetables had to be boiled for the same length of time. The eight years I lived in Shanghai, I never ate a raw fruit or raw vegetable. We also had to be inoculated three times a year for cholera, typhoid, and paratyphoid, and once a year for small pox so that we would survive.

My father had a stomach wound from a World War I injury. The stomach wound had acted up while he was in Buchenwald and was left untreated. When he came to Shanghai, it started to bother him. The climate really did not agree with him. He died in March of 1941 at 43 years old. My grandmother, his mother, had come to Shanghai, too. She was 72 years old at the time that her son, my father, died. My mother continued the typewriter business with the Chinese mechanic now completely on her own.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the city of Shanghai was totally closed to all outside shipping. Enemy aliens of Japan and Germany were sent to internment camps. So far, the stateless approximately 18,000 Jewish European refugees were in a similar predicament as the rest of the population of Shanghai.

There was very little food around. There were rations, and we were in a slightly worse position than the rest of the population because for the rest of the population, this had been their home. They were in business, making a living. But we did not have much money. Now people were not only dying of disease, but they were dying of starvation. Some managed; some died, and we all had malnutrition. In 1943, the Japanese put out an edict specifically stating that all the stateless people who came to Shanghai after 1937, I want to emphasize they never mention the word Jew-it is never mentioned in anything, which really meant our whole community, have to relocate to a designated area within three months. That designated area was the area of Honk Yu, which was the slum area of Shanghai. My grandmother died in March of 1943.

My mother and I moved with three other families to a Chinese house in that sector of Shanghai. The rooms were very small. There was no flush toilet and no running water. We had installed one flush toilet for the ten of us and installed a sink in every room. My mother and I had a very tiny room with a table, two chairs, a bed, and a sink. There was a small window which always had to be kept dark at night, especially when we had a blackout. The food shortage became much worse.

The school was outside the ghetto area. Anyone who felt they needed to leave the ghetto area to go to the other parts of Shanghai in order to make a living, in my case to go to school, had to get a pass called a Special Pass. At that time, the pass was issued by a Japanese person who gave himself a title "King of the Jews" because he had this big authority now that he could give somebody a pass. I applied with some friends for a pass to go to the school. It took me anywhere from an hour to two and a half hours to get to the school by tram, bus, walking, or trolley.

My mother applied for a pass to go. She said was going to repair typewriters. But what she did with the pass was to go into the Chinese sectors of the city where Westerners did not go. She would buy up sundries like sun glasses, silk stockings, bring them back into the ghetto area and give them to peddlers on consignment. She made a little bit of money with that. She would find different ways of putting food together. She could buy hot water at a hot water stand. Then we would boil it on the roof on a little china stove and get black coal dust, roll it into little balls with newspaper, light it, and fan it until it got going. Sometimes she got food from the little Chinese boys who would be chasing grocery trucks. They would slit open the sacks of noodles and some would fall into the gutter. Then it would be sold very cheaply. My mother and I would sit around with a candle or kerosene lamp since there was no electricity and separate the noodles from the debris. You can imagine nails, glass, stones, and dirt. Then, we would have noodles. In the spring of 1945, the war was over in Europe. So far, we had not been bombed by the Americans. The outside of the city had gotten some bombardment. Very often we would look up in the sky and would hear planes. We would see a Japanese fighter plane and an American plane up in the sky. Watching them, we would bet with marbles sometimes as to who would win. Now when I think back to it, it was kind of foolish. But, at the time we didn't think so. It was a game! Children think differently from adults.

When we found out the war was over in Europe, there was great rejoicing that Germany had surrendered. But of course, we were still at war in the Pacific theater. It would take a few months yet until the war was over. Unfortunately, about a few weeks before that, the ghetto was bombed. July 17, 1945 the Americans bombed the ghetto. It was an overcast day and they had two targets in mind. They missed one and hit the other. The one they got was a radio station on the outskirts of the ghetto. The part that they missed, luckily or I wouldn't be here today, was a munition stump across the street from where we lived. Some 30 refugees were killed, many were injured. The war was over for us in September 1945. Major General came with his American forces and we were liberated. My mother and I came to the United States in March of 1947. Now I live in Jericho, New York.

I have since kept in touch with friends from Shanghai. In fact, we had a reunion in 1985 at the Concord Hotel. We are having another one with 800 people there next April. Since my Holocaust experience, I view Judaism differently. I believe I survived for reason. That reason is to carry on the tradition of being Jewish, my heritage going back so many thousands of years, and it is very important for me to perpetuate the heritage and my religion. I am conservative, have a kosher home; my children all went to Hebrew school. I perpetuated on my children to continue the traditions because we lost so many. I have a strong Jewish identity. I also believe in spreading the stories of Holocaust survivors. I have spoken at the Ramaz School in Manhattan; Solomon Schecter, Setauket; Jericho, Massapequa, Levittown, and to you. I have decided that I can go back to my home town, even though most of its members perished in the Nazi concentration camps. I have plans to go back to Beslaw, which is now in Poland, to the cemetery. The Jewish cemetery was kept intact. I want to see my grandparents' stones and see if I can do anything about them.


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