“Shanghai Ghetto” unearths a fascinating but little-known chapter of WWII history, in which thousands of German Jews, imperiled by Hitler and rejected by British and American consulates, found haven in Shanghai in the late 1930s. Already occupied by the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese war, Shanghai wasn’t much of a sanctuary: The refugees were crammed into a de facto ghetto in a squalid, impoverished district called Hong Kew. Select fest showings should lead naturally to PBS, cable and educational venue exposure, although this path was recently trod by a previous docu on the same subject, “The Port of Last Resort (Zuflucht in Shanghai).”
Throughout the war, the Jewish emigres lived in Shanghai in relative peace, far from the horrors of Europe. A handful of the ghetto’s former residents speak on camera for the first time about their experiences there, and about the people they left behind in Germany. Scholars provide the historical context. Individually, the survivors’ anecdotes are compelling; collectively, however, the material is more interesting than the film’s rather dry mode of presentation, which is somewhat hampered by a dearth of archival footage. Another useful perspective might have been provided by Chinese acquaintances; though none is interviewed, film makes the point that there was considerable empathy between the Chinese and the Jews, as both peoples had been persecuted.