A former refugee given shelter in Shanghai during World War II got a surprise when she spotted herself in photographs at an exhibition which has just opened in New York.
The exhibition, “Jewish Refugees in Shanghai,” documents the period when about 23,000 Jewish people arrived in Shanghai between 1933 and 1941 to escape the Nazis. It tells of how they adapted to the city life and of the friendships they made with local residents.
“That young lady is me,” Betty Grebenschikoff, 90, said as she stood in front of a photograph showing her family on Lintong Road, formerly known as Macgregor Road, in Hongkou District in 1941.
A photo of Grebenschikoff and her husband, a Russian sports teacher, at the former racecourse near People’s Square in 1949 was also on display at Brooklyn Public Library, along with photos of their marriage certificate in Chinese and her residence certificate.
It was in Shanghai that Grebenschikoff met her husband, who died in 2002. The couple held their wedding in the Park Hotel in Shanghai in 1948.
Grebenschikoff, who is originally from Berlin, lived in Shanghai from 1939 to 1950. She was just 10 years old when war broke out. Her father bribed the captain of a Japanese ship to take her, along with her parents, sister and uncle, to Shanghai.
She has since been back to the city several times to visit her former home at 51 Zhoushan Road in Hongkou with her daughters. She donated her wedding dress, a classic local-style garment handmade by her husband’s mother to the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. Her third and fourth daughters wore the wedding dress when they got married.
She has also written a memoir, “Once My Name Was Sara,” which was published in English and Chinese, about her life in Shanghai.
At the reception of the exhibition, Grebenschikoff met another former Jewish refugee who had lived in Shanghai, and both shared their memories of the city.
The exhibition, under the guidance of the Information Office of Shanghai and the Hongkou District government, was organized by the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum and Brooklyn Public Library.
“The exhibition showcases the dust-laden history to US audiences, which has shocked and touched them,” a museum official said. “Some visitors appreciated the generous assistance offered by Shanghai and its citizens even if Chinese people were also suffering during that period.”
The exhibition, which is underway at the library until May 10, incorporates photographs from the time and two Shanghai-produced documentaries. Conferences and meetings between former refugees, their children and historians are also being held.
Over 70 former refugees, diplomats and officials with Jewish organizations attended the reception at the library on Tuesday.
Brooklyn has some 580,000 Jewish residents, many of them former Shanghai refugees and their children.