Immediately after the National Socialists seized power in Austria in March 1938, Jewish women and men were marginalized, humiliated and persecuted. The possibilities to leave the country increasingly dwindled. Harassment, the necessity of leaving all possessions behind, and the fact that many countries sealed off their borders made any prospect of escape difficult. China was the only country that did not require a hard-to-get visa, yet the German authorities demanded an exit document. Dr. Feng Shan Ho, the Chinese Consul General in Vienna, issued thousands of these life-saving visas, against the Chinese government wishes.
For many Austrians, Shanghai, the “City upon the Sea,” represented the last hope for refuge. The voyage there entailed a week-long sea crossing; later it involved an exhausting land journey across Siberia.
The new home away from home posed great challenges to most refugees. However, the Viennese quickly organized a “Little Vienna” in China, where, in addition to restaurants such as the “White Horse Inn”, there were coffeehouses with Viennese pastry and coffee specialties, sausage stands and wine taverns. Sports clubs and newspapers were founded, and the many refugee artists offered a diverse range of musical evenings, operettas, cabaret and theatrical performances.
When the Japanese, who were allied with the German Reich, took Shanghai in 1941, the living conditions continued to worsen. In 1943, a ghetto was established in the rundown district of Hongkew. Bad hygienic conditions and the poor supply situation led to hunger and illness. The Kadoories and Sassoons, two Jewish families originating from the Middle East who had been living in Shanghai since the 19th century, provided together with several aid committees like the American JOINT, for food and kept the schools operating.
After the victory of the Allies and the landing of the US Army in 1945, many began planning a return. With the imminent capture of Shanghai by Mao Zedong, the last Jews also left the city for the USA, Canada, Australia or Israel. Some came back to their hometown of Vienna. Because of the murder and destruction of European Jewry their return to Vienna meant a completely new beginning in a changed world.
Curators: Danielle Spera, Daniela Pscheiden
Exhibition design: Stefan Fuhrer