Shanghai revisits its forgotten Jewish past: The history of the 20,000 European Jews who fled to the Chinese city during World War II is being rediscovered.

During World War II, 20,000 European Jews fled to Shanghai, one of the few places in the world they could go without a visa, and one of the few that put no limit on the number of Jews it would accept. Under Japanese occupation, they were squeezed into one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, living cheek by jowl with working-class Chinese such as Wang.
"They were good friends. They lived together. They played together. They suffered together under the Japanese occupation," said Wang Fanglian’s 21-year-old granddaughter, Wang Kaiyan.
The old man learned English and French from his Jewish neighbors — and Japanese from the occupiers. He bought his house, the one with the Western luxuries, at the end of the war from a departing Jewish family.

Photo: A 1939 address book for the Jewish community in Shanghai. At the time, the city didn’t require a visa for entry. Credit: Barbara Demick / Los Angeles Times

Shanghai revisits its forgotten Jewish past: The history of the 20,000 European Jews who fled to the Chinese city during World War II is being rediscovered.

During World War II, 20,000 European Jews fled to Shanghai, one of the few places in the world they could go without a visa, and one of the few that put no limit on the number of Jews it would accept. Under Japanese occupation, they were squeezed into one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, living cheek by jowl with working-class Chinese such as Wang.

"They were good friends. They lived together. They played together. They suffered together under the Japanese occupation," said Wang Fanglian’s 21-year-old granddaughter, Wang Kaiyan.

The old man learned English and French from his Jewish neighbors — and Japanese from the occupiers. He bought his house, the one with the Western luxuries, at the end of the war from a departing Jewish family.

Photo: A 1939 address book for the Jewish community in Shanghai. At the time, the city didn’t require a visa for entry. Credit: Barbara Demick / Los Angeles Times