A MEMORIAL was unveiled yesterday at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum to acknowledge the 13,732 people who fled Europe to escape persecution by the Nazis during World War II.
The structure comprises a statue of six Jewish people standing beside a 37-meter-long, 2.5-meter-high copper wall, on which has been etched the names of all the Jewish people known to have taken shelter in Shanghai.
The statue symbolizes the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, its creator, Chinese-American artist He Ning, told a press conference yesterday.
He said he got the idea for a name wall in 2002, when he and Chen Jian, who is now the curator of the museum, heard that a planned meeting of Shanghai Jewish refugees in San Francisco had to be canceled as most of them had died.
“I was very sad,” He said. “It seemed wrong that history was dying out with the people.”
It was not until the refugees museum opened in 2007 — on the former site of the Ohel Moshe Synagogue in the Tilanqiao area of the city — that the two men began making plans for a permanent memorial.
Chen said he had long hoped to find a complete list of the Jewish refugees in Shanghai. He now calls the memorial “Shanghai’s List,” in reference to the Oscar-winning film “Schindler’s List.”
The names were collected by the museum with help from surviving refugees and the Israeli consulate in Shanghai. Most of the refugees hailed from Germany, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania.
Among them was Sonja Muhlberger, who helped in the creation of the list by alerting the museum to a roll call contained in the German-language book “Exile Shanghai 1938-47,” which she edited in 2000.
The list in the book was compiled by three teenage Jewish girls employed by the Japanese forces that occupied Tilanqiao during the war.
“The stated purpose of the exercise was census taking, but the Jewish girls didn’t give all the correct names as they doubted its true purpose,” Muhlberger said.
The 75-year-old said she got the list from a man, originally from Vienna, who stole it from the Japanese police bureau.
As the wall was being erected, Muhlberger proofread the names, she said.
“The wall is special because most of the people on it were still alive in 1944. So it’s not a grave stone,” she said.
Muhlberger, whose maiden name was Krips, was born in Shanghai in 1939, after her parents fled Germany to live in Shanghai. She said her father spent four weeks in a concentration camp in Germany, but was released after promising to leave the country.
“You didn’t need a visa to enter Shanghai at that time, but it was difficult to get a visa out of Germany,” Muhlberger told Shanghai Daily.
She said she remembers a relative in the Netherlands helping them by sending visa application forms to her mother.
Although Muhlberger’s father spent only four weeks in a concentration camp, he never forgot the experience of being reduced to a number by the Nazis.
“It wasn’t on his skin, but it was burnt into his mind,” she said.
The Krips returned home in 1947 as part of a large group of Jewish people. All of their names, including that of Muhlberger’s younger brother, who was born in Shanghai, are now inscribed on the wall.
A German tourist was yesterday among the first people to see the new wall, which also contains the name of his late uncle, Josef Kahn.
“The wall is very impressive and I feel so lucky to have found the name of one of my family members on it,” he said.