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    A Chinese rickshaw puller hauls a European Jewish refugee in World War II-era Shanghai. in Port of Last Resort
    A Chinese rickshaw puller hauls a European Jewish refugee in World War II-era Shanghai.

    Good fortune

    The documentary "Port of Last Resort" tells the little-known story of Jews who fled Europe and survived the Holocaust in China.


    ((NOTE: Those looking for a review of the film "Last Resort," please click here.)

    "Mars is the only spot in the universe where a Jewish emigrant can enter without a visa."           We heard this yesterday in a melancholic and amusing operetta which was performed at the Jewish club.           The emigrant falls asleep and dreams that he and his wife have landed on Mars. On Mars, at least in the dream, immigration, commerce and life are free.

    — Shanghai Jewish Chronicle

    Original title: Zuflucht in Shanghai.
    Produced by: Joan Grossman, Paul Rosdy.
    Surely this is just how many of the almost 20,000 Jews who fled from Europe to China felt on their arrival in that strange, unknown land. With a wait of a year and a half to enter the United States and other safe countries, some Jews set sail for Shanghai, which was the one port in the world open to them. Having been divided into concessions governed by the European powers, the city required no visa to enter, so in flowed refugees by the thousands to the strange but fortuitously unregulated city.

    The documentary "The Port of Last Resort" / "Zuflucht in Shanghai" — made by Brooklynite Joan Grossman and partner Paul Rosdy, who lives in Austria — tells this very interesting story through rare footage, photographs, letters and interviews with four survivors. At times, the relatively tolerable lives of these Jews feel almost obscene next to the evil that befell those who were left behind in Europe, but "Port of Last Resort" tells a little-known story that deserves to be heard, and in fact these refugees' story almost recapitulates the whole Jewish experience in microcosm.

    Port of Last Resort  
    Arriving in Shanghai with nothing, the Jews spent a hard, hungry, disease-ridden time in camps while, little by little, they got their footing and figured out how to live in China. Gradually, cultural institutions such as shops, cafes, newspapers and theaters began to spring up in the camp, and then spread to the city. Jews ventured into Shanghai's hot spots, and it became fashionable among the Chinese and the European expats to visit the Jewish establishments as well. This part of the film reminds me of a flourishing Berlin before the Nazis, or maybe even cosmopolitan New York today.

    After Pearl Harbor, however, the Jews no longer had the indulgence of China's Japanese occupiers, and life became very difficult until, just when the refugees thought disaster would strike, the war ended and the Japanese disappeared. The Jews were able to return to Europe or finally reach foreign destinations such as the United States and Australia.

    This very worthwhile documentary plays with "Memory of Berlin," which was not available for preview, at the Anthology Film Archives this week only.

    DECEMBER 12, 1999

    Reader comments on Port of Last Resort:

  • port of last resort   from , Sep 29, 2000
  • Re: port of last resort   from Bonnie Jones, Feb 18, 2011

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