A friendship built on shared oppression

ACCA dancers perform a traditional Chinese routine at the commemoration. Photo: Giselle Haber

THE Jewish and Chinese communities in NSW recently celebrated their friendship at a special commemoration to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Shanghai Ghetto.

More than 20,000 Jews from Germany, Austria and Poland fled to the Chinese city – where they lived in a tiny 2.7 square kilometre area – to escape the horrors of Nazi Europe.

Some 2500 subsequently settled in Australia.

Addressing the audience at the Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM), NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Jeremy Spinak said it was not only an important historical event but also “the reaffirmation of a great, long and traditional friendship between the Jewish and Chinese communities here in Sydney”.

“Our friendship goes from strength to strength … Like the Jews, the Chinese people know persecution, they know suffering and they know the challenges of racism,” he said.

“We must continue to work together to fight racism and hate speech here in Australia; we must continue to collaborate in the spirit of the Chinese and Jewish peoples in Shanghai.”

Deputy Consul-General of China Xuejen Tong said he was proud “that the Chinese and the Jewish people stood together” during World War II.

“The Chinese people suffered immeasurable atrocities during the war and we understand and share the pain of the Jewish refugees,” he said.

Chinese Australian Services Society (CASS) deputy chair Bo Zhou said that shared suffering grew “a bond of survival and defiance in the face of oppression” between the two communities.

Personal memories were offered from both the Chinese and Jewish perspective.

Jewish survivor Gertie Jellinek, who lived in Shanghai for 10 years, said she was “forever grateful to Shanghai”.

“It was not an easy life,” she recalled, “we were very poor, but we had lovely connections with the Chinese who admired us and were nice and friendly to us … We had a wonderful understanding.”

Professor Tang Dan Yuan, now 89, recalled: “I was just a young boy at the time … The difficult time during World War II had created a special bond between the Jewish refugees and Shanghai residents.”

Australian Chinese Community Association of NSW (ACCA) president Felix Lam said the Shanghai Jewish past should not be forgotten.

“Its heritage must be preserved for all to see and understand,” he said.

SJM CEO Norman Seligman noted Shanghai Jews were “the driving force” in founding the museum.

Dance groups from both CASS and ACCA performed traditional Chinese dance routines at the event.