Andrew Jakubowicz
About Andrew Jakubowicz

Andrew Jakubowicz is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Technology Sydney. He was adviser to the Sydney Jewish Museum exhibition on Shanghai and the Jews of China in 2001, and has written extensively about the Polish Jewish refugee community in Shanghai, racism in Australia and the contradictions of Australian multiculturalism.

AS THE WAR in the Pacific came to its calamitous conclusion in the summer of 1945, my family members still lived in Shanghai, a city descending into chaos and overcrowded with refugees from the conflict, mainly Chinese.

In their small apartment in a shared terrace house in what had up till recently been the Japanese controlled Designated Area for Stateless Refugees, off Dalian Lu, they began to plan their next steps.

With the arrival of the American forces in the city and the return of the Kuo Min Tang to take local administrative control, some order was restored but China was already well embroiled in the civil war between the KMT and the communists, leaving little room for foreign refugees.

In the meantime, though, my mother and father both found employment as book-keepers with the American Army at post exchanges, the PX where service personal can buy goods otherwise unobtainable, while my uncle started university and then also found work with the American military police.

Soon, though, they also discovered the devastating truths about their families left behind in Poland. So many millions had been murdered by the now-defeated Nazis and their collaborators, my fathers’ parents among them.

The small community of 1000 Polish Jews was devastated by the news of death camps, death marches and massacres. They wanted to move on – my father had tried to arrange entry to the USA from Kobe in 1941 through a relative in Queens, New York, but they were not successful.

The thought of returning to Poland to seek out the traces of loved ones among the scorched and pulverised remains both terrified and tormented them.

My mother’s sister Maria had received a Canadian visa sent to her in Kobe in 1941 by a Polish friend, Stefan Goldsztein (he became Stefan Golston in Canada, and later moved to Medina in Washington State in the USA where he died not long ago, aged 100 years).

Her father Michal (who died in Shanghai in 1942), had persuaded her to take the last ticket on a ship leaving Shanghai in November 1941 for Batavia and Sydney. It was planned that she would transit Australia and sail from there to Canada, arranging visas for the rest of the family after her arrival.

However, she arrived in Sydney just before Pearl Harbour, when all civilian shipping halted; she remained there throughout the War, sewing parachutes. She submitted the refugee sponsorship application for everyone she thought was still alive in December 1945, including the name of her father who had been dead for four years. In early 1946 she married a German refugee who had taken British citizenship by naturalisation, in Sydney, which would make it easier for her to sponsor the rest of her family to come out.

So in June 1946, the four remaining family members (including Marcel Weyland, my uncle and his mother, my grandmother Estera Weyland), sailed to Hong Kong with entry permits provided through the British authorities in Shanghai on behalf of Australia.

There they were kept for months in the ballroom of the Peninsula Hotel, awaiting any ship that would be released for non-military transport. Their promised passage on the SS General Gordon had been taken for the return of Australian troops from Japan.

They arrived in Sydney on a Sunday in September 1946, among the first 54 of the 300 immigrants approved for entry from Shanghai under a scheme supported by the Jewish Welfare Society.

The Jews from China were accused of being smugglers, racketeers and prostitutes, thus the references to the smart suits of the men, their “floral ties and suede shoes”, and the women in their frocks and furs.

The Sydney Argus newspaper described the scene on their landing, alluding to the deeper political controversies associated with their arrival. “As soon as the steamer Yochow from Hong Kong docked in Sydney today the 50 immigrants on board were warned that they ‘must not talk to the Press’ [and] avoid having their photographs taken’. … they were smartly and colourfully dressed’.” There were six Polish Jews among the 50, four being my family.

Australia’s Immigration Control legislation, introduced in 1901, had served to prevent  Asians and other “people of colour” from gaining permanent residence and, therefore, citizenship. Jews were also suspect and subject to a quota, reduced to 3000 a year from the pre-war post-Evian Refugee Conference level of 5000.

The Jews from China were accused of being smugglers, racketeers and prostitutes, thus the references to the smart suits of the men, their “floral ties and suede shoes”, and the women in their frocks and furs.

Most of the other refugee passengers on the Yochow were stateless, formerly German or Austrian, cut free and persecuted by the Axis powers.  Immigration nomination forms required sponsors to state whether the applicant was or was not Jewish, so that the limits could be policed.

The family members, especially my father, were followed by the political police after their arrival, the reports on them vague, hinting at unvoiced suspicions, and tinted with racism and xenophobia.

By the end of 1947 the Australian immigration process had further tightened up as the result of two hostile and anti-Semitic Government inquiries into the Jews from China. China would soon disappear anyway as a legal source of immigrants, as the government of the Peoples’ Republic replaced the KMT, and anti-Communist populism gripped the Australian political agenda.

At the same time the government intensified its expulsion of the wartime Asian refugee population.  White Australia was refashioned to hold out against the new cosmopolitans, and to reassert its values of European purity.

My parents settled into post-war Sydney, initially staying with a friend of Maria’s, then finding an apartment in Bondi, near the Pacific Ocean. My father’s accountancy qualifications were not recognised, so he found work as a silver service waiter in an up-market restaurant frequented by Sydney’s demi-monde.

My mother, once production manager on a Lodz newspaper, then seamstress and dressmaker in Kobe and Shanghai, became a salesperson in a city women’s clothing store operated by Polish Jews who arrived pre-war.

My grandmother set up a card-playing club in Bondi frequented by the refugee community, where she cooked and baked, as she had through the long war years in Shanghai when she ran the Polish Jewish community meal kitchen.

This time, the quality of the raw materials meant it soon became a favourite haunt for the refugees who missed the tastes of their own childhoods, so brutally torn from them by the Holocaust.

My parents have long passed on; my uncle is now 90 years old and celebrated at his recent birthday by the dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren for whom he is the patriarch. He continues to translate Polish poetry into English to the great acclaim of the Polish diaspora.

My aunt, Maria, once a 25-year-old on whose shoulders the family’s survival depended, has become the new matriarch, her children and their children, and theirs, a tribute to the resilience of people who have survived the worst the world can throw.

The house off Dalian Lu was demolished in 2005; I watched its transition from sepulchre of family memory into a dust heap, a woman with the sledgehammer on its roof smashing away at the attic and cast-iron balcony.

Dalian Lu has been transformed and is now a wide boulevard lined by tall, modern buildings. The entry lane for the house has been replaced by the grand entrance to the Dalian Lu stop on the Pudong metro line.

Nevertheless, the presence of the refugees has been inscribed in Shanghai’s urban memory.  A Wartime Refugees museum encompassing the old synagogue in Hong Kew, has been established with a grand bronze statue at the entrance of fleeing Jews finding safety in Shanghai.

My family’s name is missing from the inscriptions on the memorial wall, probably because they, like many Polish Jews, managed to avoid being entered in the Japanese Police registration list compiled in 1944 from which the wall of names has been prepared.

Or they may have been at school and work on the day the recorders came to call. Not far away the former headquarters of the Japanese secret police, Bridge House, marks the site where in 1943 five Polish Jewish men were held and then died for refusing to be listed as “stateless” as the Japanese’s Nazi allies had insisted.

AND SEE
Japan’s ‘Schindler’: A genuine hero tangled in a web of myth (Times of Israel)
A peek into the true story of Chiune Sugihara, a WWII diplomat whose humanity gave thousands of Jews a ticket out of Europe – and how it is now used by a remilitarising government

 Main photo: The author’s mother, Halina, and her sister Maria in Sydney,1946

This article is part of a sequence of correspondence with Japanese-born Canadian journalist Aya Takahashi, who shares a fascination with the refugees who survived the Holocaust due to the intervention of Chiune Sugihara, Japanese consul in Lithuania in 1940. 

Andrew Jakubowicz
Posted by Andrew Jakubowicz 2 weeks ago