Shanghai Escape

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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.

Lily Toufar and her family arrive in Shanghai in 1938, having fled from Vienna on the eve of Kristallnacht. Shanghai is a ...

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Shanghai Escape

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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.

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.

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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)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781927583104
  • Publisher: Second Story Press
  • Publication date: 9/23/2013
  • Pages: 204
  • Sales rank: 936,118
  • Lexile: 860L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.20 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

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

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