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Hongkou offered shelter to Europe’s Jews
By Xu Chi

A French priest who has worked to uncover cases of Jews exterminated by Nazi mobile killing units during World War II also visited Hongkou District recently to see where many thousands of Jews found shelter before and during the war.

Catholic priest Patrick Desbois, 58, and his investigative team have visited hundreds of villages in Eastern Europe in the past decade to locate the sites of mass killings of Jews during the Holocaust.

While Desbois’ team has studied the fate of Jews who were unable or unwilling to leave Europe before or during the war, efforts are being made to educate the world on the role Shanghai played in saving thousands of European refugees from the Nazis.

Part of an exhibition entitled “Amazing Shanghai,” organized by the Information Office of Shanghai Municipal Government and to be held at the Rockefeller Center in New York from September 16-21, talks about how some 30,000 Jews sought refuge in Shanghai from 1933-41, some 20,000 in Hongkou District, while most of the world closed its doors.

Desbois said during his visit to Shanghai that he hopes to explore the similarity between the Nazis’ killings of Jews and the killings of Chinese by Japanese soldiers in Nanjing and elsewhere.

Desbois says that during his visit to Nanjing, capital city of Jiangsu Province, in June, he saw that the way Chinese were killed by Japanese there seemed very much like the way mobile German units killed the Jews.

“For example, we met a witness whose family was killed and she saw the Japanese rape the women in her family. She was the only survivor among the corpses. I remember that I interviewed a girl in Eastern Europe whose family was all killed. She was also among the corpses,” Desbois said.

Desbois says that while he doesn’t yet have any concrete plans, he hopes to delve into mass killings in China that occurred during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45).

“Very frankly, people in France and Germany know only Nanjing. They know very little about the anti-Japanese war,” he says.

“They know a little from movies about Nanjing, but the war is underestimated. If you ask people in Paris when did Japan attack China, they would respond, ‘What? China and Japanese (had a war)’?” he says.

“Many French people don’t know when the Japanese came and why they attacked. It’s quite the same in Germany.” Desbois says he hopes to interview local people to see how many victims were killed in Shanghai and other places in China during the anti-Japanese war. “My organization is ready to interview people who witnessed the crimes by the Japanese,” he says.

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