This exhibit came to life because I had the almost miraculous fortune to meet Dr. Jacqueline Pardo while researching my historical novel, Someday We Will Fly. Jacqueline's mother, Karin Pardo (nee Zacharias), lived out World War II in Shanghai after fleeing Germany with her parents and brother in 1939. Many thousands of Jewish families survived the war by escaping to Shanghai when much of the rest of the world closed its borders.
Life in Shanghai was almost unimaginably unfamiliar for the Zachariases. Karin's mother was a concert-level pianist in Germany; in Shanghai, she had to focus her energy on feeding and keeping her family safe. Karin's father, trained as a lawyer in Germany, created a lending library in Shanghai, out of the more than 3,000 books he had managed to bring from Germany. He also started businesses from a cigar shop to an inspired if short-lived restaurant. Both parents worked relentlessly to make sure Karin and her brother had food, books, and friends; that they were educated; and that they grew up with as much normalcy as possible in the context of war.
The objects, documents, and photos of Karin's girlhood — her school bag; notebooks and diaries; a thank-you note she and other members of her Girl Guide troupe wrote to American soldiers who had given them chocolate; and her exemplary report card (on which her music teacher writes hilariously, "She can't sing.") — highlight the sweep and scope of a lived girlhood in Shanghai during the war. We have also displayed here Karin's Chinese language notes; Japanese language notes; Girl Guide logbooks; a shirt with embroidered dragons twisting up its sides, and paper dolls her grandmother sent from Germany, before dying at Theresienstadt.
The books from the family's lending library, as well as Karin's father's sweater, bag, and cigar box, are juxtaposed to census documents, passports, food ration coupons for basic necessities; and money. We hope to give a sense of the fiber of daily life for refugees in Shanghai, including moments of joy and generosity: a Passover menu; a concert program; a lovingly painted wallet made by a friend; and a ring made for Karin by her brother, who, after finishing school in Shanghai, did an apprenticeship with a jeweler.
Records of the lives of families who survived WWII in Shanghai informed my creation of Lillia Kazka, the young refugee at the center of my novel Someday We Will Fly. Lillia escapes Warsaw for Japanese-occupied Shanghai because it is the only remaining place her family can land in 1939. Of course Lillia and the other characters in my novel are fictional, but the Shanghai they inhabit was real, and the objects in this exhibit brought that city and era to life for me.
We hope visitors will find this record of one family's survival moving, and that it honors the many thousands of other Jewish families who survived WWII by seeking refuge in Shanghai. In important ways, the world of 1940's Shanghai is perhaps not so different from the world we live in. the dangers faced by children and their parents remain real, as do the courage and resilience refugees demonstrate in ways both too small to be seen and too vast to be measured. These objects from wartime family life allow us to imagine how, in catastrophic contexts, we keep alive the possibilities of childhood, hope, and love.