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Strange Haven: A JEWISH CHILDHOOD IN WARTIME SHANGHAI Hardcover – April 1, 1999

4.5 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The history in this memoir is astonishing. Driven from Germany by the Nazis, Tobias was six years old in 1938 when he and his family found refuge with 17,000 other European Jews in a part of Shanghai under Japanese occupation. His quiet personal recollection describes how they got there and what their daily life was like during the next nine years, until at the age of 15, he left for the U.S. Most bizarre is the account of being a religious yeshiva seminary student, no different from if he were living in a Polish shtetl. Without being cute, Tobias (now an eminent professor of educational pyschology) stays true to the refugee child's experience. The Chinese are just background color--ill-treated by the Japanese but in a world apart. There are no heroics. What's important is Tobias' bar mitzvah. Daily prayers and rituals and scholarly discussion order his life--until the news of the Holocaust reaches Shanghai, and he has a crisis of faith. An affecting memoir of rescue and survival. Hazel Rochman

Review

"The history in this memoir is astonishing. Driven from Germany by the Nazis, Tobias was six years old in 1938 when he and his family found refuge with 17,000 other European Jews in a part of Shanghai under Japanese occupation. His quiet personal recollection describes how they got there and what their daily life was like during the next nine years, until at the age of 15, he left for the U.S... An affecting memoir of rescue and survival." - Booklist "Tobias recounts a moving story of both hardships (which intensified after Pearl Harbor) and friendships, as he struggled to maintain his Orthodox lifestyle in an area known for its pleasures and temptations... Tobias offers personal insight into the anxieties, dislocation, and cultural classes of the time." - Library Journal "Well-written, informative text opens an interesting envelope of history." -Jewish Herald Voice "A remarkably accessible and detailed account of this vibrant community and the resilience of one family trying to create as normal and healthy a home as possible in dreadful conditions." - Gavin Hainsworth, Zachor ADVANCE PRAISE "A fascinating, well-written story that involves aspects of Shanghai's refugee youth experience not covered by any other such memoirs. It should appeal to a wide range of readers, from those interested in various aspects of the Holocaust, Jews in China, and adolescence and sexual awareness, especially within a very Jewish framework."-David Kranzler, author of Japanese, Nazis, and Jews: The Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai, 1938-45
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press (April 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252024532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252024535
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,825,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I first heard about this book when the author and I appeared on the same radio program to discuss our books about Shanghai. (My book is "Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City, 1842-1949.") In the course of my research I read nearly all of the memoirs published by members of Shanghai's refugee Jewish community. All have their virtues, but Tobias' is one of the more thoughtful and reflective. It also has a novelistic flavor, especially the beginning when he recounts-sadly and movingly-his family's departure from Germany. The story he tells us is indeed strange, on so many levels, yet there is an all-pervading sense of the events the author describes as being all too urgent and real. "Strange Haven" captures Shanghai's details, its look, sounds and, above all, smells, wonderfully well. He goes into great detail, as well, about the experiences of the Jewish refugees in Hongkew, the area the Japanese turned into their version of a Jewish ghetto. Above all, "Strange Haven" is a story of survival in an extraordinary time and place.
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Format: Hardcover
As some one who lived as a youngster in the wartime Shanghai Jewish Ghetto during the same time as the author, the book provides a very poignant, detailed and accurate description of what it was like, for impoverished European Jews to cope under the Japanese occupation, while living with equally poor Chinese families in over crowded slum like quarters. The author alluded numerous times to the horn-of-plenty the small orthodox community seemed to enjoyed and of which he personally benefited as well, while every one else had barely enough to prevent starvation. How the Yeshiva could have smuggled in enough US currency, (inviting a death penalty if caught by the Japanese) and distribute $30 US dollars a month, ( fortune at that time) to each family has always been a mystery to me. The hypocracy of a Jewish religious community stuffing themselves with fresh kosher meat, milk, butter and vegetable while the rest of us suffered from malnutrition, needs some further explaining. It has left a permanent bad taste in my mouth. Aside from this, Tobias has written a well balanced and touching account of his own personal, his family's and that of 18,000 other Jewish refugees' struggle to survive in the war time ghetto of Shanghai under Japanese bayonettes. We who lived through it will always have a feeling of gratitude to the equally suffering Chinese people. Claude Spingarn, cespingar@aol.com
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Format: Hardcover
A wonderful narrative and photographs of a journey from 1938 (Kristallnacht) Germany to Japanese occupied Shanghai and then to the United States after the surrender of Japan but before the liberation of Shanghai from Chiang Kai-shek by Mao. Tobias describes the day to day struggle to live and survive in a foreign land, waiting for the conclusion of World War II. Throughout this journey Tobias continually lives with the memories of his dead family members who were unable to flee Nazi Europe. At the end of the book Tobias takes us back to Shanghai to revisit his memories.

There are many surprises for anyone who doesn't know the details of Hitler's Germany. Prior to 1940, Jews sent to concentration camps were released if they could prove that they would leave Germany. Jews did not need passports or visas to enter Japanese controlled China. The Japanese respected Jewish history and had difficulty accepting the Nazi propaganda. Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul-general in Kovno, Lithuania, who made possible the escape of many Polish Jews to Shanghai, returned to Japan to live the post war years in dishonor for defying orders.

At its core this well written book describes the coming of maturity of a sensitive Jewish boy and his unique education in Jewish schools and the Mirer Yeshiva in Shanghai. Tobias avoids cliché and appears to deliver an accurate description of a unique personal story of World War II and its aftermath.
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