During the late 1930s, as the Nazi threat grew greater, more and more countries closed their borders to Jews. One of the only places Jews could go without visas or passports was 8,000 miles away in China. Thousands of Jews fled Europe, seeking refuge in Shanghai. Despite the difficult living conditions they faced in Shanghai – which was occupied at the time by Japan – the Jewish refugees managed to survive and endure.
Using interviews intercut with old photographs, home movies and stock footage, directors Dana Janklowicz-Mann and Amir Mann have crafted both a wonderful historical document as well as emotionally dense portrait of the human condition. The Manns interview historians, scholars, and a small cross section of former Shanghai refugees, including Dana's father, who was eight years old when his family left Germany. The stories recounted by the survivors create a flood of emotion, and serve as a reminder of the brutal history of the last century. During one of the film's most profoundly emotional moments, one woman recalls how her father, a German Jew, had fought for Germany during World War I, where he killed a French Jew in combat. Her painful recollection gives added weight to the betrayal and inhumanity Germany exercised in dealing with Jewish people.
Shanghai Ghetto is a profound and emotionally powerful documentary, emerging as more than just another chapter in the Holocaust. This is a film that transcends Jewish history, becoming a document that speaks to the nature of humanity, while serving as an inspiration and a cautionary tale of the heavy price that war exacts on humanity – a lesson of great relevance during these volatile times. Shanghai Ghetto is a film that should be watched by all people of all faiths.