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Shanghai Escape

Shanghai Escape

5.0 3
by Kathy Kacer

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Shanghai, China, seems an unlikely destination for Jewish refugees trying to escape the cruel anti-Semitic laws of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party before the Second World War. But while most countries were unwilling to give refuge to Jews, China was one place that did. More than twenty thousand European Jews found refuge in Shanghai between 1937 and 1939.



Shanghai, China, seems an unlikely destination for Jewish refugees trying to escape the cruel anti-Semitic laws of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party before the Second World War. But while most countries were unwilling to give refuge to Jews, China was one place that did. More than twenty thousand European Jews found refuge in Shanghai between 1937 and 1939.

Lily Toufar and her family arrive in Shanghai in 1938, having fled from Vienna on the eve of Kristallnacht. Shanghai is a strange place for this bright young girl. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and under pressure from Hitler, the Japanese government in Shanghai has ordered Jewish refugees to move into a ghetto in an area of Shanghai called Hongkew. There is little food to eat and poor sanitation, and disease is rampant. For Lily, life becomes grueling after her family is forced into the ghetto. Lily endures the difficult conditions, always hopeful for an end to the war and a return to normal life.

Editorial Reviews

Historical Novel Society
"Lovingly researched, this middle-grade novel opens the world of the Holocaust as it affected refugees who fled Europe and found themselves persecuted in other lands. Author Kathy Kacer uses the true story of Lily Toufar to show us what daily life was like as Jew in China as she endured poverty, starvation, and cruelty. We empathize with Lily and her extended family as we grow to love and respect their courage."
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"Kacer brings us into this turbulent time in history through the eyes of a child who was caught up in the horror and once again she does it with a finesse that portrays the suffering and pain without making it too graphic for young readers."
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
Among all of the Jewish ghettos during World War II, perhaps the least attention has been paid to one in Shanghai, China. In part, this is because the inhabitants of the Shanghai ghetto self-selected to be there. Many of the Jews with the prescience to escape Europe early in the Nazi takeover came to China because other countries would not open their doors to the persecuted. Also, in comparison to the terrors of Lodz and Warsaw, the Chinese ghetto was survivable. It was certainly unpleasant but the residents had a chance to work, they could remain with their families, and they were not transported to death camps (although that rumor persisted throughout the war). Lily Toufar fled Vienna with her parents and extended family as the glass around them shattered on Kristallnacht. Taking only their clothes and her mother's sewing machine with them, they began a circuitous 8,000-mile journey to Shanghai. There, they crammed into a small but livable apartment. Both of Lily's parents were able to find minimum work, as were her relatives, and the family survived. As the war progressed, the Shanghai Jews were herded into a less desirable quarter of the city with Chinese natives. The two groups lived side by side, though separately, right through the heavy American bombardments and the end of the way. While this is classified as a biography, it is clear that the dialogue is colloquial North American speech and not the actual words of Lily and her family. (Note that author Kathy Kacer is Canadian.) The early part of the book seems stilted, but as the story progresses and Lily acclimates to China, the writing flows better. Lily's anxiety at her situation is palpable and, ultimately, this is an important hidden chapter of the Holocaust. Overall, it is a meaningful tribute to the people of Shanghai who provided haven for unlikely refugees. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6— Filled with photographs, Shanghai Escape is an episodic novelization of Lily Toufar's real-life story growing up in Shanghai. Lily is four when her extended family flees Austria on Kristallnacht. They go to one of the few places accepting Jews-Shanghai. There Lily lives in the French concession and goes to school as her family tries to adjust to a new life. Shanghai is under Japanese control and after Pearl Harbor, things start to change. Eventually Lily, her family, and the rest of the stateless refugees who arrived after 1937 move into the Hongkew ghetto-a place already overcrowded with poor Jews and even poorer Chinese citizens. Once there, they hear the horror stories coming out of Europe and wonder what will happen next. Making Toufar's story accessible to middle-grade readers means that some of the realities of Asian geopolitics are not entirely accurate, and some of the horrors of the Holocaust are glossed over. As there is little written about the vibrant Jewish community in Shanghai, this does remain a good and different addition to Holocaust literature, especially for readers too young for Andrea Alban's Anya's War (Feiwel & Friends, 2011).—Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington County Public Libraries, VA
Kirkus Reviews
The story of Jewish refugees in China during World War II is told through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl and her extended family. When Lily Toufar and her family flee their home in Vienna in 1938, on the eve of Kristallnacht, they head for Shanghai, China. This city, so far from their roots, is one of the few places that will allow Jews to escape the oppression they are experiencing. Life in the Shanghai ghetto is full of deprivation and struggle for Lily's family. Despite the difficulties, they are together, a reality they have to work hard to maintain. The refugees build a community with school, worship and religious traditions. Those things are clouded by outside events as Lily's parents try to stay abreast of what is happening in the war. It gets closer following Pearl Harbor with the fear that the strict Japanese presence in China might intensify and extend to the refugees. Lily's story is compelling, and this highly readable narrative always maintains the perspective of a child coming of age in dangerous circumstances. The story would have been strengthened by some documentation. The moving dialogue is not sourced, leaving readers to wonder whether it's real. There are few footnotes, and most of the photos, while helpful to the story, are not credited. Readers will come away with a strong sense of the resiliency of a family and a community under unique stress, though they will need to look elsewhere for facts to back it up. (Nonfiction. 9-12)

Product Details

Second Story Press
Publication date:
Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers
Product dimensions:
8.20(w) x 6.40(h) x 0.70(d)
860L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 13 Years

Meet the Author

Kathy Kacer has won many awards for her books about the holocaust for young readers, including Hiding Edith, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, Clara’s War and The Underground Reporters. A former psychologist, Kathy tours North America speaking to young people about the importance of remembering the Holocaust. For more information, visit www.kathykacer.com.

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Shanghai Escape 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
PatriciaReding More than 1 year ago
It is odd that in all my reading of stories relating to WWII and the Holocaust, I was somehow unaware of the many Jews who, when they sought refuge from the Nazis in the 1930s, moved to Shanghai. Indeed more than 20,000 did so. It was during this time—1938 to be precise—that Lily’s family made their move to the city. At the time, Lily “marveled at how nice [her mother] looked, as if she was planning a dinner party and not an escape from their home.” In any case, Lily, along with her parents, her Oma, and some extended family, journeyed for weeks to arrive at one of the few places that at the time would offer safety to the Jews. Some time later, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Imperial Army occupied Shanghai, and the U.S. entered the war, the lives of the Jews in Shanghai changed drastically. In a manner similar to the ghettos that many Jews had sought to escape from in Europe, those in Shanghai were also left with little space, food, medication, or other life necessities. Lily’s story is recommended for middle graders readers, despite the hardships and violence of which the author tells—and it is an important story, particularly given that much of the physical evidence of Jewish life in Shanghai during that period has already disappeared.
Holly More than 1 year ago
Shanghai Escape is the true story of how one family found refuge in Shanghai but to only to live in fear again during World War 2. Lily and her family come from Vienna in 1938, as they try to escape the wrath of Hitler and persecution of Jewish people like theirs. As luck would have it, the war seemed to follow them to Shanghai as they do everything they can to survive in this turbulent time in our history. Lily was a young girl who was forced to leave her childhood home due to the war and travel to Shanghai for sanctuary. After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, the government forces all Jews to move to the ghetto part of town and live within a wall. As Lily deals with everything that comes from living in a ghetto and growing up in a rocky world, it's not until the allied forces makes headway against all those doing evil things that the family can see the end of the tunnel and a better life for them all! I love reading books that give you a different point of view during World War 2 and having this book being a true tale but with some fiction stuff added in, it was perfect! I never knew until I read this book that the Jews fled to Shanghai to seek a safe place from everything that was around them. I also liked how it ended giving everyone a glimpse of the real family and where they ended up after the war ended. Thank You to Kathy Kacer for befriending Lily so we can know her side of the story of what really happened during that time! I received this book from the Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago