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'Brave Jew' returns home, remembers a city of kindness

    'Brave Jew' returns home, remembers a city of kindness

    Susanne Sambor, 90, holds a certificate from the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum with her name on it as a brave Jew who once lived in Shanghai. She took shelter in Shanghai for seven and a half years.
    When 90-year-old Susanne Sambor arrived in Shanghai, all the vague memories in her mind became clear. She could almost see the buildings and street views of old Shanghai in the 1930s, smell the fragrant gardenia and hear the noise of vendors.
    “I’m finally home!” she said excitedly, to both her companions and the city, the only shelter for her family when they fled from their motherland after Hitler arrived in Vienna.
    She returned to relieve old memories and find old friends.
    Sambor was born into a Jewish family in Vienna in 1929. Her father was a jeweler and her mother worked in a bank.
    “I didn’t have any brothers or sisters because of the Great Depression. We couldn’t afford more children. Dad was worried about how he could support the family if he had more than one child. Before Hitler came he earned a little bit more.”
    She went to school and all was peaceful until Hitler came. On March 12, 1938, the day of the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, Hitler arrived in Vienna.
    She can still remember the Nazi soldiers dragging and hurting people. “We saw a lot of people being hurt and kicked and persecuted in the streets. And we were stoned.”
    Kristallnacht, crystal night, on November 9-10, 1938, was every Jew’s nightmare. Also known as the Night of Broken Glass, Jewish homes, businesses, synagogues and schools were ransacked and damaged, littering the streets with broken glass. Thousands of Jewish men were sent to the Dachau concentration camp.
    Sambor’s mother came running to pick her up and take her home. She said they were lucky because the SS only took men and would do nothing to them. But her father, who hid in the toilet at her grandparents’ place, was found by the SS and taken to Dachau.
    Then the family made a plan to save her father from the camp. “At that time they only sent men, not women. And when you could show that you were leaving the country, they would let you out. We tried to get my dad out of Dachau. The Jewish Association, they helped with the fare.”
    Her mother and two aunts went to Dachau to try to convince the guards to release her dad. When they could prove that they genuinely had the tickets to leave, he was released.
    “By the time we left Vienna, the only country that had left their doors open to us was China. No one else would take any more refugees.”
    Sambor and her two cousins’ families left Vienna in 1939 and went by rail to Trieste, Italy, and then by ship to China.
    “When we arrived in Shanghai, the Jewish Committee met us and gave us food and put us in different camps. The Jewish Committee people were kind. They allocated rooms to the families,” she recalled. “There were four families per room. The rooms had bunk beds. Sheets and blankets were hung to divide the room for privacy.
    “For me, I loved Shanghai. The camp we lived in had so many lovely young people and the friendship was unbelievable.”
    Now her biggest wish is to find the old friends who shared the same memories of Shanghai.
    In 1941, Japan took control of Shanghai. Later the Jews were isolated in an area of around 1 square mile in Hongkou District. The Jewish ghetto was closely guarded by Japanese soldiers.
    “My parents were allowed to work while they were in the Shanghai camp. Before the outbreak of war, my dad was selling ladies’ powder cases outside the camp. But when war was declared, it was much harder to leave the camp. Refugees were forbidden to leave the Jewish area without a permit. It was a guarded community and there was a curfew,” Sambor said.
    The permits were issued by Koah Goya, a senior Japanese officer overseeing the Jews in Shanghai. Sambor pictures him as a “bad man.” If anyone was found outside the area without a permit, they would be severely punished.
    But despite a few “bad guys” there were many others who warmed her heart, such as Mr Kadoorie, the main reason for her telling her story to Shanghai Daily.
    “They are a wonderful family, really wonderful. They gave us free schooling,” said Sambor. “You don’t find any people better than the Kadoories. They have hearts of gold.”
    During her visit this time, Sambor received a certificate from the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum naming her as a brave Jew who once lived in Shanghai. She hopes one day that she can meet anyone who knew her in Shanghai to recollect their shared memories.

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