Ruth Shany, a renowned Israeli painter, greeted every Shanghai friend with
"Nong hao va?" ("How are you?" in Shanghai dialect) after returning to the city
that was a haven for her family nearly 70 years ago.
Ruth Shany searches for traces of her home in the Hongkou District of
Shanghai where her family took refuge from Nazi persecution nearly 70
At the renovated building in Hongkou District where Shany used to live, the
84-year-old painter found an 87-year-old Shanghai lady who has been living there
for many years.
She held the granny's hands for a long time, tears brimming in her eyes.
"I am so grateful to the city, the only place which opened its arms to the
Jewish refugees during World War II," said Shany.
While holding her solo exhibition in Beijing's XYZ Gallery, Shany spared
three days from her China tour to travel around Shanghai.
She said that the city held a number of wonderful memories for her and used
the word "unbelievable" to describe the refuge her family found here.
Shany was born to a Jewish mother in Berlin, Germany. When the Nazis headed
by Adolph Hitler came to power in 1933, Shany's family left Germany and moved to
Prague, in former Czechoslovakia.
A year later, Hitler announced that the Jews were welcome to return to
Germany where they could live in peace. Shany's father, a soldier who served in
the German Army, took his family back. But after five years, the family could no
longer take life under the Nazis.
In February 1939, the Shany family boarded an Italian ship and landed in
Shanghai after three weeks. Starting their life in a new country was not easy.
All their properties were gone and they lived in Heim (temporary lounge) with
In 1941, after they found a small room to live in, Shany's mother became sick
with a tropical disease and died.
"Although our lives were full of hardships, we were treated in a friendly way
in the neighborhood," Shany recalled.
She supported herself as a waitress in a Japanese restaurant in the now
Nanjing Donglu street.
The owner of the restaurant was a kind soul and Shany even started learning
Chinese silk painting under Japanese art professor Taishi Nishio.
While learning Chinese, she visited galleries, went to
concerts and cinemas and began
appreciating the beauty of Shanghai.
May the Earth Bear Living Creatures, one of the eight paintings of Ruth
Shany's My Creation series.
Nanjing Lu, Babbling-well Street (now Nanjing Xilu near the Jing'an Temple
which was called the Babbling-well Temple) and other beautiful sights would
always stay in her memories, she said.
When the state of Israel was established, Shany, then 26, moved to Israel and
Shany said her family is inexplicably tied to Shanghai.
Her son Daniel Wachsmann, who would grow up to become a film-maker, was born
in the Wardwall Hospital which was on today's Changyang Lu.
"I wish I can show him the place where he was born the next time I come to
Shanghai," she said.
Incidentally, her son's film The Chosen was screened at the first Shanghai
International Film Festival in 1993.
During her three-day stay in Shanghai, Shany travelled mainly in Hongkou
District where most of the 20,000 Jewish people stayed during World War II.
When Shany tried to find the restaurant where she once
worked, she learned it had closed
down in 1943, a year before she got married.
Shany has a studio in the city of Safed, which is situated in the beautiful
Galilee area. She continues to paint using her special style-rich colors on
silk, which she learnt in China.
Her Beijing exhibition includes 56 paintings, including her favorite series
My Creation and other pieces on flowers, plants and scenery.
Several years ago, she and her husband spent two weeks on the shores of the
Dead Sea. One night, she woke up and could not fall asleep again. She sat down
at the window and looked out into the night.
There were millions of stars illuminating the dark blue, almost black, sky.
Shany was struck by the fantastic sight amid the total silence of the night.
"I do not know how long I sat there until I noticed the appearance over the
Moab mountains of a reddish stripe that gradually became larger and brighter.
Breathless, I watched the wonderful display of colors and the thought came to me
that creation must have begun this way," she said.
She took out her Bible and re-read the chapter on the creation of the world
in seven days. "Moved by an inner urge, I painted My Creation, reflecting the
wonder I had experienced."
She did not sleep for days until she had completed the eight paintings.
Her exhibition entitled Back to China with Love will continue at XYZ Gallery
in Dashanzi of northeastern Beijing until Saturday.
"I regard it as a return to where my artistic journey began and I am honored
to show my work to the Chinese people," she said.
(China Daily 03/27/2007 page20)