From Germany to Shanghai: The Story of a Holocaust Survivor


by Jenny Wang | special to the MAIL

In August 1939, 10-year-old Jerry Lindenstraus and his Jewish family of eight arrived at the port of Shanghai, China, carrying baggage, German heirlooms and fears about their future.

Jerry’s mind raced as he breathed in the scorching summer air and surveyed the noisy crowd of Asian faces. He and his family were then taken to the Jewish refugee center by trucks — nine of the 18,000 Jews who sought refuge in Shanghai during the terrible rise of Nazi Germany.

Now 93, Lindenstraus can still remember in detail his experiences as a Jew during World War II. He recently sat down with students at the School of the New York Times to recount those memories in hopes that his story will inspire future generations to actively combat not only anti-Semitism, but anti-Asian hatred, armed violence and other atrocities.

“I don’t worry so much about myself, but about my grandchildren.” he said.

Lindenstraus was born and raised in Gumbinnen, a small German town of around 30,000 people. His grandfather was the head of the Jewish community while his father ran a profitable family department store.

However, their comfortable lives were disrupted when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933. With their swastika armbands, SS officers and constant parades, “they made it a point to be visible,” Lindenstraus said. .

Growing hostility towards Jews prompted his family to move to Königsberg, the capital of East Prussia (a territory now divided between Poland and Russia). Then came the terrible night of Kristallnachtalso known as the Night of Shattered Glass, when Nazi forces systematically vandalized thousands of Jewish synagogues, homes and shops across Germany and Austria.

“I didn’t see the flames because it was nighttime,” Lindenstraus said, “but when I tried to go to school the next day, there were none.”

Reading this event as a sign of departure, his father, Louis, quickly secured nine first-class tickets for the last German steamer to Shanghai, which was the only visa-free city at the time. All other European countries, as well as the United States, had strongly anti-Semitic policies that denied visas to Jews.

Her father had sent £500, the current equivalent of around $25,000, to a cousin in London, with the agreed arrangement that he would later send the money to Shanghai for the family to use to live on. . After a grueling month-long sea voyage, the Lindenstraus family finally reached their destination.

At the time, Shanghai was controlled by various foreign powers and divided into independent French, British and Japanese colonies. The city was stripped of Chinese jurisdiction and influenced by both Eastern and Western cultures.

“It all happened in Shanghai,” Lindenstraus said. “They had opium dens, they had rickshaws, nightclubs, professional beggars.”

Jerry Lindenstraus is pictured here in his 1944 photo “Boy Scouts Association, Shanghai Branch” when he was 14 years old. Now 93, Lindenstraus warns young people to “keep your eyes and ears open” to Nazi ideologies resurfacing in the United States. Photo/courtesy Museum of Jewish Heritage Collection

As the family adjusted to their new life, they learned of their cousin’s betrayal: he had lost 400 of their £500 nest egg. It was devastating news. With their prospects seemingly shattered, her father soon developed pneumonia. He died just months after their arrival, leaving young Lindenstraus and his stepmother Lillie to fend for themselves.

With her biological mother in Colombia, her stepmother became her mother figure. They rented a cheap apartment in the Jewish ghetto of Hongkew District and sold treasured heirlooms to bring food to the table. Sephardic Jewswho immigrated from Iraq about a hundred years earlier also generously helped the refugees, using their resources and connections in Shanghai’s big business.

Despite the limitations, he quickly adapted to the new environment. He became familiar with English thanks to the Shanghai Jewish Association School, and easily learned to speak pidgin – a mixture of English, German and Chinese – to negotiate with the locals. He joined Boy Scouts Britain, attended Congregation Ohel Moishe and met his lifelong best friend, Gary Kirschner.

Nevertheless, Lindenstraus acknowledged the grim circumstances.

“People in Shanghai always downplay how bad it was, but it was pretty bad, especially for adults,” he said.

Tropical diseases were rampant, and her mother-in-law never fully recovered from the disease she contracted in the ghetto. Many fell ill even after boiling the drinking water they had purchased. Refugees needed special passes to travel outside the ghettos, for which they had to stand in the heat for long periods and endure the humiliation of Officer Ghoyanicknamed the “King of the Jews”.

“I learned to be a survivor,” Lindenstraus said.

On September 2, 1945, the Japanese government officially surrendered, marking the end of World War II. The retreat of Japanese forces to Shanghai finally freed the Jewish people from the ghettos, a moment Lindenstraus cherishes as one of his fondest memories.

He stressed the importance of hope and resilience in difficult times. Asked about his feelings for surviving when so many others perished, he replied, “I didn’t feel guilty. I felt lucky.

After the war, Lindenstraus was reunited with his biological mother in Colombia and lived there for seven years. He then returned to Germany and later moved to New York, where he met his wife, Erika.

His unique experiences and fluency in English, German and Spanish allowed him to successfully launch his own business exporting auto parts to Latin American countries.

He eventually returned to Shanghai with his son Leslie to visit the ghettos where he lived as a teenager, this time as a lecturer at the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum. Even during the pandemic, Lindenstraus hasn’t lost his connection to the city, giving Zoom talks to the Shanghai Congregation of Jewish Businessmen and closely following the city’s news on the pandemic.

Despite the adversities, his optimism was instrumental in his survival, as well as in his success in his later life. Now, as Nazi ideologies resurface across the American political spectrum, Lindenstraus feels compelled to tell his story and share advice with younger generations.

“Keep your eyes and ears open,” he said. “And make sure you’re involved and active [in your community] so that these things don’t happen again.

Jenny Wang, 16, is a student at The Webb Schools, where she is the editor of the Webb Canyon Chronicle. Last summer, she participated in the New York Times reporting program, and this story is her culminating project. Jenny plans to study international relations and journalism in college, hopefully at Stanford University.


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