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Search Arts
Search Arts
The World

Joan Grossman
 	 Joan Grossman
"The Port of Last Resort" is a documentary about the European Jews who escaped the Nazis and fled to Shanghai. Between 1938 and 1941, nearly 20,000 Jews took refuge in this Chinese city. That's because it was the only place on earth that would accept them without papers. Joan Grossman: The city was divided into these various enclaves, there was the British, the French, the Americans, and everybody was operating under their own laws. It was a lawless place. It had been a thriving city, once called "The Paris of the East" or sometimes "The Whore of the East," depending on how you looked at it. But when the refugees arrived in the city in the late 30s, the city was in decline, because the Japanese had been fighting and occupying parts of China. There were Russian Jews who had escaped the Russian revolution and wealthy Iraqi Jews who had been involved in the opium trade and had come via the Middle East and India. The City had an international flavor.

There was a great sense of isolation and displacement there. There was immense depression among the refugees because very few went there because they found it to be an exotic destination, they went because it was the only place they could go at a point where they felt desperate to leave. The city was already under siege and embattled by the Japanese, so they were going to another war zone. Despite their tremendous resilience in rebuilding a community, there was a lot of starvation and disease, and most of the refugees lost all the family and friends they left behind. So it was not an easy immigration, but it's a story of survival.

Marco Werman: A music album inspired by this story was released along with the DVD. It's called "Metropolis Shanghai--Showboat to China." The album features music the Jews of Shanghai took into exile, and Chinese tunes popular in the 1930s. German music producer Stefan Winter traveled to Shanghai to put it together." Winter calls his album an "audio film." That's because it features sounds of daily life in Shanghai as well as music that had made the trip from Europe.

Stefan Winter: The Jews brought their music with them. Imagine about 18,000 Jews came to Shanghai and we know that about 400 to 500 musicians came from Germany and Austria to Shanghai.

Shanghai was-- especially at that time-- a melting pot of different cultures. There was American culture, American swing music for example, influenced Shanghai heavily, and also a strong influence by the French. The Philippinos also came to Shanghai and they played a lot of show music, they organized Vaudeville in bars and cabarets.

A lot of Jews who went to Shanghai came from Vienna. They played, instead of Jewish music, a lot of Viennese restaurant music. You would hear that music in Shanghai, I saw the advertisements in period newspapers to go to those coffee shops and hear that music.

"Frisch Gewagt" is one of the songs that were played in Vienna. It means "Let's start over again" so I think that's what these people were thinking at that time, "forget what happened and let's start over."

There was a quarter in Shanghai which was called żLittle Viennaż and even when you go today into these streets, you find old signs with German names. This quarter had been destroyed by the Japanese. And stone by stone, the Jews rebuilt this quarter and created a home for themselves.