Strange Haven

Strange Haven : A Jewish Childhood in Wartime Shanghai

3.46 (13 ratings by Goodreads)
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In the wake of Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938, Sigmund Tobias and his parents made plans to flee a Germany that was becoming increasingly dangerous for them. Like many other European Jews, they faced the impossibility of obtaining visas to enter any other country in Europe or almost anywhere else in the world. One city offered shelter without requiring a visa: the notorious pleasure capital, Shanghai. Seventeen thousand Jewish refugees flocked to Hongkew, a section of Shanghai ruled by the Japanese.Beginning in December 1938 these refugees created an active community that continued to exist through the end of the war and was dissolved by the early 1950s. In this exotic sanctuary, Sigmund Tobias grew from a six-year-old child to an adolescent. Strongly attracted by the discipline and rigor of Talmudic study, Tobias entered the Mirrer Yeshiva, a rabbinical seminary transplanted from the Polish city of Mir. The money and food the 1,200 refugees of the Yeshiva received from the American Jewish community made them a privileged elite within the Shanghai Jewish community.Tobias' own coming-of-age story unfolds within his descriptions of Jewish life in Shanghai. Depleted by disease and hunger, constantly struggling with primitive and crowded conditions, the refugees faced shortages of food, clothing, and medicine that became increasingly severe as the war continued. Tobias observes the under life of Shanghai: the prostitution and black market profiteering, the brutal lives of the Chinese workers, the tensions between Chinese and Japanese during the war, and the paralyzing inflation and the approach of the communist 'liberators' afterward.Sheltered from what was happening in Europe, Tobias recounts the anguish of the refugees when news of the Holocaust finally reached them. Richly detailed, "Strange Haven" opens a little-documented chapter of the Holocaust and provides a fascinating glimpse of life for these foreigners in a foreign land. An epilogue describes the changes Tobias observed when he returned to Shanghai forty years later as a visiting more

Product details

  • Hardback | 208 pages
  • 160.02 x 208.28 x 20.32mm | 317.51g
  • University of Illinois Press
  • Baltimore, United States
  • English
  • 0252024532
  • 9780252024535

Review quote

"The history in this memoir is astonishing. Driven from Germany by the Nazis, Tobias was six years old in 1938 when he and his family found refuge with 17,000 other European Jews in a part of Shanghai under Japanese occupation. His quiet personal recollection describes how they got there and what their daily life was like during the next nine years, until at the age of 15, he left for the U.S... An affecting memoir of rescue and survival." - Booklist "Tobias recounts a moving story of both hardships (which intensified after Pearl Harbor) and friendships, as he struggled to maintain his Orthodox lifestyle in an area known for its pleasures and temptations... Tobias offers personal insight into the anxieties, dislocation, and cultural classes of the time." - Library Journal "Well-written, informative text opens an interesting envelope of history." -Jewish Herald Voice "A remarkably accessible and detailed account of this vibrant community and the resilience of one family trying to create as normal and healthy a home as possible in dreadful conditions." - Gavin Hainsworth, Zachor ADVANCE PRAISE "A fascinating, well-written story that involves aspects of Shanghai's refugee youth experience not covered by any other such memoirs. It should appeal to a wide range of readers, from those interested in various aspects of the Holocaust, Jews in China, and adolescence and sexual awareness, especially within a very Jewish framework."-David Kranzler, author of Japanese, Nazis, and Jews: The Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai, 1938-45show more

Rating details

13 ratings
3.46 out of 5 stars
5 0% (0)
4 62% (8)
3 31% (4)
2 0% (0)
1 8% (1)
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