There are some movies you want to see and others that you feel you should see. This past summer, a lot of people were chomping at the bit to see “Spiderman 2”. I have to admit, I was one of them. There’s nothing wrong with a little mindless fun once in a while. Movies you know you should see, on the other hand, often require some psyching up for to watch. With the subject of “Shanghai Ghetto” being the Holocaust, it certainly qualifies. Also, with as many movies made about this period and this event, it’s easy to want to ask yourself if there is any story here that hasn’t already been told. Granting that the Holocaust was the epitome of evil and a lesson for all, is there anything another documentary can tell us that we haven’t been told in some way before? The answer is a resounding “yes”.
“Shanghai Ghetto” begins with a bit of a history lesson. Everyone knows of the Jews flight from Germany leading up to World War II. Lesser known is that the destination of last resort for many, once most nations refused more refugees, was the city of Shanghai. Then under Japanese control, Shanghai was the only place in the world that would accept immigrants with out entrance visas. Suddenly, 8000 miles away from their homes, tens of thousands of Jews established a community in the form of a ghetto in this port city. Originally believing this was a temporary stop over, most of them were located in Shanghai for ten years or more.
A kind of movie like this cannot be summarized and given justice. Suffice it to say that through the interviews with survivors the desperation of life both in Germany and Shanghai is made manifest. Through them and the rare photographs and film remaining from the period, you will experience every emotion from sorrow, to fear, to anger, and even eventually to joy. Particularly poignant is the footage that the filmmakers Dana Janklowicz-Mann and Amir Mann made in 2000. Sneaking in a small video camera past the Chinese authorities, the filmmakers documented two Jewish Shanghai survivors as they visited their old homes. Surprisingly, the buildings were nearly completely unchanged since the war. Keep in mind that the Chinese residents who allowed their homes to be taped were themselves taking a very big risk as the Chinese government expressly forbids this sort of activity.
In many ways, this film shows real life at its best and worst. If you’re after fun escapist entertainment, again there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and you have many options. But if you want reality, turn off the cheesy TV shows falsely baring the name and pick up a documentary. There are many good ones out there that you might not have heard of because they don’t offer Michael Moore’s vitriolic rantings against some conservative institution or feature some clown shoving quarter pounders down his throat. Still, exceptional documentaries like “Shanghai Ghetto” are rare and not always easy to come by. Nevertheless, so priceless are the contents of this film that you owe it to yourself to view if at all possible.