Manfred Sigmund Gabler (Manny)

escape to the east

By 1937 it was obvious to Simon Gabler that he and his pregnant wife could not stay in Germany. As Hitler’s plans to make Germany judenrein “cleansed of Jews” progressed, they knew that they would either have to leave the country or they would end up in a concentration camp. So their journey began. From Chemnitz, Germany to Milan, Italy, where baby Manny was born, on to Genoa and finally to the only escape possible for refugees without travel documents; Shanghai.

From 1937 to 1941 the open port of Shanghai allowed more than 18,000 undocumented Jews seeking refuge from Nazi Germany to temporarily settle in the Hongkou area of the city. There, a one square mile unwalled ghetto was set up to house the refugees.

When the family landed in Shanghai Manny was only one year old. His memories of the war come from his nine years living in Hongkou. Living conditions were harsh but “we lived surrounded by equally poor Chinese.” Food was scarce for both the Jews and the Chinese. It was a common sight to see bodies of Chinese babies who had died during the night lining the street as he walked to school in the morning.

When you live through an experience like this. “I think you get a really deep sense of who you are. There is a satisfaction in just knowing that I have survived and done okay.”