Chinese Pandas: We Will Never Forget

Posted on 9/15/2015

The Shanghai Mint released the 2013 1-ounce Silver Shanghai Memory Commemorative celebrating the Victory Over Fascism.

“We will never forget,” was the message from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a taped interview he referred to the actions of the people of Shanghai and China during World War II. About 18,000 refugees found a haven there from the Nazi terror. This event was marked in 2013 by an official Shanghai Mint medal, the Shanghai Memory Commemorative.

On September 3, 2015, the People’s Republic of China celebrates the end of World War II, the 70th Anniversary of the Victory Over Fascism. One part of this victory involved a haven in China for Jews who were trapped in Europe. As the political situation in Germany and Austria grew grimmer through the 1930s many Jews sought to escape persecution in their homelands. To emigrate, though, required a travel visa. To their dismay nearly every country in the world refused to issue the life-saving documents — although a few exceptional individuals like Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden and Chiune Sugihara of Japan bent diplomatic rules to help.

The Chinese consulate in Vienna, Austria, was under the direction of Dr. Ho Feng-Shan. Dr. Ho watched in dismay as the treatment of his Jewish friends turned more and more violent. He finally made a personal decision to issue “End Destination” visas to as many Jews as possible. This allowed the holder to find any "transit" means possible to get to Shanghai. This was contrary to the policy of his government, but he did it anyway.

As Dr. Ho wrote visas, the German government tried to stop him. It forced the closure of the Chinese Consulate. Not to be intimidated, Dr. Ho responded by renting a nearby apartment that he personally paid for. He declared it a new consulate. The flow of exit visas continued. Dr. Ho saved the lives of thousands of people. This was one of the largest rescues accomplished by any individual during the Holocaust. Dr. Ho sacrificed his own career and future to do this; the Nationalist Chinese government disgraced him when he returned to his country. Today, though, in the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum the People’s Republic of China honors Dr. Ho’s bravery and compassion.

Many of the emigrés entered China through the port of Shanghai. In 1937, the Japanese army conquered Shanghai and imposed its rule on the residents. Six years later the city’s Jewish refugees were ordered to live in a section of the Hongkou district. This so-called Shanghai Ghetto was not a purely Jewish area. The refugees were simply crammed in with the native Chinese residents. Food and goods were scarce, indoor-plumbing was rare, and employment was minimal within the Ghetto. Leave was needed to work elsewhere in the city and few permits were granted. Worse, the tyrannical Japanese commander of the Ghetto beat some who applied for one and others for no reason at all.

The native Chinese enabled the Jews to survive. They could bring in the supplies the community needed from other parts of Shanghai. These were traded for services, including medical care and entertainment, the Europeans could provide. All this took place without any incidents of anti-Semitism. In fact, many lasting friendships were formed between the Shanghai Jews and Chinese. Some even married.

To remember all this, the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum held an event on August 26. It honored those who lived, worked and helped each other live through the dark years in Shanghai. A new museum section was also opened to the public. The White Horse Inn, a popular Jewish social spot during the war years, has been rebuilt across the street from the main museum building. A large lawn leads to the front of the new inn. In the middle of that lawn is a fountain and in that fountain stands a beautiful statue designed by Mr. Rocky Zhao. This art was first used on the popular 2013 silver and gold Shanghai Ghetto Memory Commemoratives struck at the Shanghai Mint. Mr. Zhao is also the designer of China’s 2015 Panda coins. His vision of a Shanghai woman befriending a young refugee girl has almost magically been turned into a life-size sculpture. The statue is truly beautiful, almost as beautiful as Mr. Zhao’s wish that it be a symbol of peace and friendship throughout the world.

Clockwise from upper left: The unveiling of the Shanghai Memory statue, Shanghai
news coverage of the event, a 2013 1 oz. silver Shanghai Memory commemorative,
an interview with artist Rocky Zhao and museum supporter Danny Spungen of the
Spungen Family Foundation.

Along with about a hundred invited guests and many, many reporters and TV crews, the Consuls-General of Israel and Austria both attended. After the ceremony I could see them chatting, a fitting conclusion to a story with an important numismatic chapter.

Peter Anthony is an expert on Chinese modern coins with a particular focus on Panda coins. He is an analyst for the NGC Chinese Modern Coin Price Guide as well as a consultant on Chinese modern coins.

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