Even those who know a great deal about the Holocaust may well be enlightened by this documentary from the team of Dana Janklowicz-Mann and Amir Mann, which expertly narrates a largely forgotten episode in the tragic Jewish experience during the Second World War: the emigration of some 20,000 to relative safety in the Chinese port where, because of the circumstances of Japanese occupation, refugees could enter without visas at a time when other nations were assiduously slamming their doors shut. The story of how the community survived even after Pearl Harbor meant internment for their British and American supporters is a powerful one; and the recognition that the poverty and suffering of their Chinese hosts were even greater adds to the poignancy.
Technically “Shanghai Ghetto” is entirely conventional. It uses stock newsreel footage to set the stage and then intercuts interviews with survivors and historians (including Janklowicz-Mann’s father Harold) with archival material, excerpts from contemporary documents and still photos from the period; there are also moving scenes showing some of the participants returning to Shanghai to visit the tiny rooms they shared with their families so many years ago. The strength of the film comes not from any cinematic razzle-dazzle but from its recovery of an historical episode that, in the simple telling, proves simultaneously harrowing and uplifting. Martin Landau’s narration is suitably subdued.
“Shanghai Ghetto” is an informative and compelling piece of non-fiction filmmaking, well worth searching out.