In the 1930s, Shanghai was the only place in the world to offer visa-free sanctuary to Jews fleeing Nazism — 20,000 ended up in Shanghai. In 1943, the Japanese restricted them to a one-square-mile area, which became known as Little Vienna.
A pianist and a violinist used to play popular music for customers at the White Horse Inn, or Das Weisse Rossl. The waitresses wore dirndls — traditional Bavarian outfits — and the menu featured Wiener schnitzel.
But the White Horse wasn't in Austria or Germany, it was in wartime Shanghai. And for the city's wealthier Jewish refugees, it offered a memory of homes that no longer existed.
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The White Horse Inn is among a number of buildings inside the Jewish district to be knocked down to make way for a widened road.
As they start work, the demolition crews are uncovering layers of the past, like unwitting architectural archaeologists. By knocking down shop facades, old shop signs beneath are revealed, like one for Wuerstel Tenor, a sandwich shop, which had been covered for decades.
They will pull down other fading shop fronts at the heart of Little Vienna, as well — those of Cafe Atlantic and Horn's Imbiss-stube (Horn's Snack Bar).
Coincidentally, the award-winning mystery novelist SJ Rozan has just come out with a new book that is partly set in the Jewish refugee milieu of wartime Shanghai. It's called The Shanghai Moon and concerns a (fictional) legendary jewel from that era, believed lost and/or stolen....
Rozan is an old friend of mine, and this marks the first time she has used a Jewish theme in her mysteries -- most of which (like The Shanghai Moon) are a series featuring a Chinese-America detective, Lydia Chin, and her Anglo partner, Bill Smith.
You can read an excerpt from The Shanghai Moon by clicking HERE.