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Shanghai Refuge: A Memoir of the World War II Jewish Ghetto by Ernest Heppner (79,000 words, 27 illustrations)

After the Nazis took power, Heppner, a member of a privileged middle-class German Jewish family, suffered from constant anti-Semitism. But Kristallnacht, in November 1938, introduced a new level of Nazi horror: Heppner and his mother used the family’s resources to escape to Shanghai, the only city in the world that did not require a visa.

Heppner was taken aback by experiences on the ocean liner that took him and other refugees to Shanghai: he was embarrassed and confounded when Egyptian Jews offered worn clothing to the Jewish passengers, he resented the edicts against Jewish passengers disembarking in any ports on the way, and he was unprepared for the poverty and cultural dislocation of the great city of Shanghai. But being self-reliant, energetic, and clever, Heppner found niches for his skills that enabled him to survive in a precarious fashion in Shanghai’s ghetto.

In 1945, after the liberation of China, Heppner found a responsible position with the American forces in Nanjing. He and his wife, a fellow refugee he had met and married in Shanghai, arrived in the United States in 1947 with only eleven dollars but boundless hope and energy.

“This inspiring memoir is a story of survival... The unique and traumatic experiences of tens of thousands of Jews who managed to escape for the ‘temporary’ haven of Shanghai are described with objectivity and clarity.” — Leonard H. D. Gordon,

“The author describes in detail the sights and sounds of his adopted environment, the mingling of Jews and many nationalities, the choking stench and the humidity, the decadent, exotic underworld of criminals and beggars, the terror of air raids and Japanese guards, the rampant poverty and disease. The general tone, however, is positive, even inspiring, and behind all the experiences lurks a sense of adventure and simple good luck.” — Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter

“A fascinating and moving memoir that begins with [Heppner’s] childhood in Nazi Germany and moves briskly from one compelling scene to the next.” — Forward

“Ernest G. Heppner’s Shanghai Refuge fills in the fragments... of this little-known Jewish community... His story is an odd mixture of defiance, courage, endurance and survival. His experience [is] fascinating.” — Michael Berenbaum, Director, U.S. Holocaust Research Institute

“An important addition to the historical record of World War II, an autobiography of a remarkable man’s formative years, and a testimony to the power of community and human perseverance.” — Indianapolis Star

“Heppner’s descriptions... ring true and carry conviction, especially when he recalls in evocative detail his day-to-day experiences in Nazi Germany. Similarly, his recollection of Shanghai, with its small, telling details of privations, indignities, anxieties, and horrors make maximum impact—from the rat in the bakery that he lifted up by its tail to the carnage following an American air raid.” — Bernard Wasserstein, author of The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln