One of the most significant as well as emotional times in my life was traveling to Shanghai with the Rickshaw Reunion Group. This group is made up of first generation Shanghailanders who were in Shanghai between 1937 until the end of the War. I had been to and presented at several reunions in the United States over the years and felt very comfortable. My son Sam, who was serving in the U.S. Army in South Korea, and Robert’s childhood friend Fredy Seidel* traveled with me. I also hired a translator/ photographer who spoke Shanghainese. A freelance writer, Adam Minter, who was working in Shanghai helped me map out our adventure. As we walked down King Chow Road to find Robert’s home at #146, my heart sank as many of the homes were in partial or full stages of demolition. “Breathe,” I was told when it was revealed that his home for 10 years remained untouched! The little lady who had been Robert’s neighbour and caretaker for 10 years was home. She and her family had moved into the Goldman home from 1958 and remained there until shortly after our visit. We went back the next day and were greeted by the rest of Ye Cuier’s family, and the neighbors who had also been there 46 years earlier. Sadly, two weeks later her home was demolished to make way for high rise buildings. Our timing was indeed fortuitous.
While there are so many narratives that detail the plight of the Jews in Shanghai, the fact that Robert’s family stayed on in Shanghai through 1958 makes his story somewhat extraordinary. There were of course others that did as well, but conventional wisdom has led most people to believe that all the Jews ‘vanished’ from Shanghai as soon as the war was through. This is far from the truth. The story of those years following the war and their emigration and resettlement elsewhere is a story in and of itself. Though I have interviewed in person a total of seven of Robert’s classmates and friends that stayed on in Shanghai through 1958, there are about ten others that I have not been able to find. Those seven gave me incredible snippets of their lives there: stories of food, playing hooky from school, playing soccer in the alleys and stamp collecting. They put emotions to words. I want his story to be known. I have shared photos in the Igud Yotsei Sin Newsletter, Points East from The Sino-Judaic Institute, and Professor Pan Guang’s books. On the wall of Exhibit Hall #3 at the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum hangs an exhibit with Robert’s life portrayed including a picture of his friends.
I’ll leave you with a quote by Elie Wiesel, “Memory is Everything. It is a passion no less powerful or pervasive than love. It is the ability to live in more than one world, to prevent the past from fading, and to call upon the future to illuminate it.”**
*An excerpt from Fredy Seidel’s memoir is also published in this issue of Asian Jewish Life.
** Incidentally, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Elie Wiesel about 20 years ago. Both Harry Fischman and Professor Wiesel lived in the same town of Sighet, Romania. They were taken to Auschwitz at the same time, lost all of their family, were in the Buchenwald Camp through Liberation on April 11, 1945, and went to the same French Orphanage for 3 years until coming to the USA in 1948.
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