Passport tells tale about Shanghai Jewish refugees
SHANGHAI: In Gerda Brender's yellowed childhood passport is the shared history of Shanghai's Jews.
Like the Jewish community, the passport disappeared. But it resurfaced and last week was returned to Brender, more than five decades after she left the city as a young refugee who had escaped the Nazi Holocaust.
Thus ends a story that tracks the city's Jewish saga.
The 71-year-old - who once went by the name Gerti Waszkouter - is now a grandmother who showed off the old document from her suite at the Hilton Hotel. It's all a far cry from the four-year-old girl for whom the passport was a lifeline keeping her out of the Nazi concentration camps.
Brender and her family went to Shanghai in 1938. Her passport shows they left Europe from Genoa and stopped off in Hong Kong. Although she was born in Vienna, the Germans marked her as stateless. She was not the only one. Tens of thousands of Jews went to the free port of Shanghai, where a Jewish community had thrived since 1842.
Brender's family stayed until 1949, through the good times and the bad - including the Japanese occupation, which forced all Jews into the Hongkou ghetto in the city's northeast. When the family went to Australia that year, Brender left the passport behind.
Like the city's Jewish community, the passport was all but lost, and was not to resurface for decades.
Nothing was heard about it until six years ago when Zhu Peiyi, an antique collector and manager of a shipping company, found two passports at a Shanghai flea market known as the Ghost Market. He picked the two up from a collection of 17 and quickly recognized the markings of the German Reich.
"Antiques have their own destiny. I come across things and think fate has made me find them," said Zhu, a Buddhist.
The Ghost Market is a chaotic place, which starts around 4 am. It has just about every type of antique and pseudo-antique and it needs a good eye to tell the difference.
When Zhu picked up the two passports, he thought perhaps he could find the original owners. He bought both passports.
It took six years for that original thought to become reality. By then, the Jewish community in Shanghai had begun to reappear.
Brender visited Shanghai in 1986.
"Then there was no little Jewish centre... there was nothing, nothing, nothing."
It was not until 1992 that Israel and China established diplomatic relations and 10 years ago, an Israeli consulate opened in Shanghai. At the time, said Eliav Benjamin, Israel's deputy consul-general in Shanghai, there were only two Israelis and a handful of Jews.
By the time the passport resurfaced the community was growing again.
"In Shanghai, Jews always feel welcome," said Benjamin. "Some places in Shanghai still use their Jewish names."
Just two years ago, there were 70 Israeli Jews in Shanghai. Now there are 200.
Last week, when Brender returned to the city and was reunited with her passport, there were an estimated 1,000 Jewish people living in Shanghai.
But when Zhu found the passport six years ago there were still only a few Jews in the city. It took him a long time to track down Brender. The breakthrough came during a chance conversation that led him to Qin Yiquan, a volunteer at Moses Synagogue which was once a gathering place for Shanghai's Jewish refugees.
Eventually the passport information was posted on a website - www.rickshaw.org - where Shanghai's Jewish refugees stay in touch and exchange news and information.
A friend of Brender's saw the posting there and managed to get the information to Brender's son. That was in January this year.
"It was a tingling feeling (when I heard of the passport)," said Brender. "It was like getting something from my past."
Brender returned to the city this time with her family including her husband and two grandchildren who are in their twenties.
The only outstanding issue is the second passport.
"The Brender story has a perfect ending but my next wish is to meet the boy from the other passport, who might be in his 80s now," said Zhu.
The boy's name is Manfred Lichtenstein. He was born on August 24, 1932.
Brender's husband, Joseph, believes Zhu finding his wife was a one in a million chance and it is unlikely Lichtenstein will surface.
"The other guy, they couldn't find. I don't think they ever will."
(China Daily 04/18/2005 page3)