METROPOLIS SHANGHAI/PORT OF LAST RESORT
SHANGHAI’S JEWISH HISTORY EXPLORED ON DVD AND CD RELEASES
GERMAN LABEL WINTER & WINTER RELEASES DVD OF ACCLAIMED DOCUMENTARY “ZUFLUCHT IN SHANGHAI: PORT OF LAST RESORT” FEATURING MUSIC BY JOHN ZORN;
NEW CD “METROPOLIS SHANGHAI: SHOWBOAT TO CHINA” PAINTS AURAL LANDSCAPE OF ASIAN PORT, FEATURING MUSIC BY BRAVE OLD WORLD
“Zuflucht in Shanghai: Port of Last Resort” DVD (Winter and Winter 905-004-7) Release date MAY 9, 2006
“Metropolis Shanghai: Showboat to China” CD (Winter and Winter 910-111-2) Release date MAY 9, 2006
This is a story – told via the unique and separate vehicles of a documentary film and a music CD – about the plight of nearly 20,000 European Jewish refugees who fled Nazi oppression to the free port of Shanghai from 1938 to 1941. Here Jewish refugees could arrive with no papers, and the unique world they made for themselves in this legendary “Paris of the East” is one of the most under-reported yet moving episodes of the World War II era, a time when survival took many forms.
Stefan Winter, who produced the evocative “Metropolis Shanghai: Showboat To China” CD for his Winter & Winter label, had been enthralled by the documentary “Zuflucht in Shanghai: The Port of Last Resort” after it was released to critical acclaim in 1998. Winter decided to bring that film by Joan Grossman and Paul Rosdy to a wider audience via DVD, and create a companion piece in the newly recorded “Showboat to China” CD. While the music on the CD and DVD each feature a completely different cast of musicians, the unforgettable picture they create together provide us with a compelling view of a world where music and memory played an important role in keeping the refugees spirits alive.
Shanghai: “The Paris of the East” and “The Whore of Asia”
Considered the greatest city in Asia during the 1930s and 1940s, Shanghai was nonetheless a port of contradictions and contrasts. This city at the mouth of the Yangtze was home to 4.5 million Chinese and almost 50,000 Europeans, yet by the time World War II broke out it had no political power of its own. Japan installed a puppet government there in 1937 and parts of the city were divided into enclaves to accommodate foreigners, including the British, French and Americans.
When Jewish refugees from Berlin, Vienna, Munich and other cities throughout Europe began arriving in Shanghai during the mid- and late-‘30s, their presence wasn’t so much welcomed as it was tolerated. The Japanese hoped that their entry into this “free port” would send a signal to America that Japan was friendly to the West.
The city the immigrant Jews settled into was a world apart from their native countries, and by the time they arrived it was already in decline, a contrast of shambles and desperate glamour. Chinese refugees from the Sino-Japanese war also flocked to the city, a city that for most new arrivals brought little but poverty and disease.
Shanghai was a city of extremes with its skyscrapers and nightclubs, and its hunger, prostitution and drugs, yet the Jewish immigrants created – and in many cases tried to re-create – communities for themselves that kept their culture alive. They were soon forced into a ghetto where thousands were brought to the brink of starvation, yet many survived War War II and eventually made their way to Israel or America after the Communists took over the port in 1947. Through it all, their soundscape was the European songs they had brought with them from back home, and the native sounds they heard in Shanghai’s streets and nightclubs.
Additional background available on www.rosdyfilm.com
“Metropolis Shanghai: Showboat To China” CD
The music on “Metropolis Shanghai: Showboat To China” conjures up images of life in Shanghai during what’s called, with more than a little irony, its “Golden Era” of the 1930s and 1940s. That life was as varied as the people who lived there. Chinese and Philippine swing bands entertained partygoers in bars, hotels and dance clubs, European Jews played in café houses in “Little Vienna,” and both traditional Chinese music and Japanese military music could be heard throughout the city. On the CD, the interpretations of traditional Chinese and Cantonese music, styles such as Suzhou from the Yangtze delta and late 19th century Viennese waltzes are performed by some of the finest musicians in Asia and Europe.
Providing context – and making it all seem as genuine as a window open to a busy Shanghai street seven decades ago -- are aural recreations of everything from old women playing the parlor game Mah Jong to ship’s horns blasting from the bustling harbor and excited crowds conversing between – and during – songs in imagined clubs of years past.
For “Metropolis Shanghai” Wang Yongji is musical director of the Chinese ensemble perdorming a pair of compelling Cantonese pieces, while an array of Chinese musicians, including members of the Bamboo and Silk Ensemble, lend their talents to traditional material popularized during the early part of the 20th century in and around Shanghai. Among the most famous: “The Moon Over a Fountain,” composed by the revered Chinese folk musician A Bing in 1939, here interpreted by Duan Kaikai on the two-string bowed erhu and urheen, and Cao Yun on dulcimer. The Monks at the Long Hua Temple contribute with an extended traditional bells and chants song.
The Jewish refugees were exposed to this music and more during their years in Shanghai. And with over 300 musicians among the 20,000 who emigrated to the city, the European classical and Yiddish traditions of their homelands became a regular part of Shanghai’s soundscape, as well. Those sounds are interpreted on “Metropolis Shanghai” by members of Brave Old World, an American quartet lauded for their brilliant interweaving of old and new Jewish music with contemporary classical and jazz traditions. Their latest CD “Song of the Lodz Ghetto” was released on Winter and Winter last year.
Led by accordionist and pianist Alan Bern, Brave Old World members Michael Alpert (violin, vocals and guitar), Kurt Bjorling (clarinet) and Stuart Brotman (bass, trombone) are joined by special guest Roswitha Dasch on violin and guitar. Their performances add a fresh urgency to the Viennese music of Josef Schrammel that was performed in the café houses of Shanghai’s “Little Vienna” as well as to several stirring traditional klezmer pieces that were popular during that era.
“The Port of Last Resort: Zuflucht in Shanghai” DVD
The title of the film comes from the sorry fact that for most refugees Shanghai was literally a “last resort” as a safe haven for the desperate Jews of Europe. In the film, four former refugees – Fred Fields, Ernest Heppner, Illo Heppner and Siegmar Simon – recall life in Shanghai in all its harshness and at times, strange beauty.
Music plays a central role in the award-winning documentary, either, with an original score by American Jewish jazz musician and composer John Zorn, who leads an inspired ensemble on the film’s eclectic and evocative soundtrack. The group’s use of traditional Jewish instruments plus the pipa, a traditional Chinese string instrument, moves the narrative with klezmer, classical and Chinese sounds. Additional music ranges from the big band sound of Whitey Smith and the Majestic Hotel Orchestra to traditional Chinese pieces from the “Golden Era” composed by Liang Le Yin.
Filmmakers Joan Grossman and Paul Rosdy assembled rare and remarkable film footage, with sensational 8mm and 16mm home movies providing intimate portraits of the daily life of refugees on the streets of Shanghai. Combined with excerpts from journals of refugees, still photographs, Japanese films and outtakes of American newsreels, they have woven together a film that captures the complexities of this little-known haven from Nazi terror.
Shown at more than 40 film festivals, “The Port of Last Resort” was awarded Best Documentary at the St. Petersburg Message to Man Film Festival and the Cinemanila International Film Festival in the Philippines. It also won Best Picture in the “Framing the Other” Film Festival in NYC in 1999.
“ZUFLUCT IN SHANGHAI: PORT OF LAST RESORT”
DVD Project Description
Countless stories of death and destruction are the legacy of World War II. The unfathomable persecution of the Jews has been painfully and necessarily engraved into the public consciousness. But many other stories of escape and survival have quietly evaded the public eye. Where did the Jews go, when they were lucky enough to flee Nazi-occupied Europe? And what was their fate…?
"…there is one place on earth where you can go without any paper, no permit, no affidavit, no special entry-permit, no visa. You just get there, that' s Shanghai."
- Fred Fields, refugee
Shanghai was a booming city in the 1920s profiting from the trade and had changed since the 19th century into an exotic colonial outpost, mainly of Britain and France. The city's International Settlement and French Concession provided foreign enclaves the right to operate under their own laws, and the city became a thriving international territory with no restrictions on immigration. The towering harbor-front skyline, known as the Bund, rivaled New York as did the glamorous nightlife. But this could not hide that Shanghai was at the same time a city of contrasts, of foreign tycoons and rickshaw coolies, a center of business and crime. Though many Chinese also benefitted from the boom, public parks in the foreign concessions for example were known to have signs to prohibit dogs and Chinese.
Japan, who also gained an own concession, started to launch military attacks against China from their grounds during 1927 and 1932 and finally installed a puppet government in 1937. At that time when most of the Jewish Refugees flooded into Shanghai, the city was already in decline after thousands of destitute Chinese refugees from the Sino-Japanese war flocked to the city, spreading poverty and disease. As the Jewish refugees struggled to build a tenacious community, Shanghai was under siege by the Japanese, who would ultimately control the fate of the Jews and finally gained control over the city's foreign enclaves after the war broke out in 1941 also in the Pacific. The Jewish refugees were forced into a ghetto where they spent the rest of the war with great deprivation and uncertainty.
Interviews with survivors and letters from refugees, Annie Witting from Berlin and A.J. Storfer from Vienna, give a lively picture of the living conditions in "Little Vienna", a refugee community in the district of Hongkew with shops, cafes, nightclubs, and newspapers of their own. The ghetto was administered by the Japanese and disease and hunger spread. In the middle of 1943, the Red Cross reported that thousands of Jewish refugees were on the brink of starvation. In July 1945 American bombs fell on the ghetto. Seeking Japanese communications and munitions posts, the bombs killed dozens of refugees and Chinese. After the liberation, most of the Jewish emigrants decided to leave Shanghai, setting out for America, Australia and Israel.
"Shanghai was a fake, a phony, neither occidental nor oriental. And yet – God forgive me – she was the most exciting and unique city in the world. She was poison, and the old-time Shanghailanders were addicts who never could free themselves of being in love with her." - Max Berges, refugee
"May 1947. All my dear friends, Is this all a dream or indeed reality? It has been four days since we have been underway and indeed on the high sea, withdrawing more and more from China for our new home, Australia. Around us the endless sea. We see flying fish and sometimes even sharks. The sea is steel blue, the top of the waves shines brilliantly. One comes to feel again like a human being, and no longer a refugee."
Yours - Annie Witting
THE PORT OF LAST RESORT is an impressive documentary who brings after years of research and discovery this remarkable emigration to life, with music by John Zorn.
For more info go to www.rosdyfilm.com
Metropolis Shanghai: Showboat to China
CD project description
Shanghai means "on the sea". The name comes from the Sung dynasty in the 11th century. At that time the story of Shanghai began as a small fishing village. It became a city in the 16th century, but was still unimportant until the Opium War during the 1840s when European powers took control of the city and opened it up to foreign trade. Because of its ideal location near the mouth of the Yangtze River and the foreign concessions, Shanghai became China’s main trading port and lost its Chinese self-determination. "Metropolis Shanghai - Showboat to China" is the sound story about the "Paris of the East", about the "Whore of Asia", about the "Golden Era" of the greatest city in Asia in the 1930s and 1940s, about the most cosmopolitan place on earth, about the port of last resort for the Jews, about the fully-controlled Japanese base after the second Sino-Japanese War, about the "Old Shanghai" which was not a colony but ruled by foreigners, abou, in short, t the "Queen of the Orient".
During the first half of the 20th century this metropolis was divided in different territories: the French Concession, the International Settlement ("owned" by England and the United Sates of America), the Japanese base and the Jewish ghetto. Nearly all residents were Chinese (4.5 million Chinese and 50.000 Europeans) but without any political power. Shanghai was one of the most extreme places that ever existed, full of speculation, entertainment, hunger, shelter, sex, death, life, war, hope, drugs, despair, business, and poverty. Shanghai was the worst and the best of everything. The city of quick money and masses of incredibly poor people. Every day dead bodies were laying in the streets, and girls sold themselves to survive and earned little more than venereal diseases. The "Golden Era" was a very cynical name for that time period, only few winners and rich people created their own "Paris of the East" in Shanghai. Hotels, bars, whorehouses, vaudevilles, entertainment and the gambling places were booming tremendously. "Ye Shanghai" (Shanghai Nights) sung - at that time - by the star Zhou Xuan became the "hymn" of this fascinating and decadent world:
"Shanghai Nights" (Text by Fan Yanqiao)
Shanghai nights, Shanghai nights,
You're a nightless city;
Bright lights, music, delirious dancing,
Not wine drunk, drunk by crowd frenzy,
Reckless nights, reckless days,
Afraid to miss the taste of spring!
To see your welcoming happy face,
Who thinks your inner heart is sad?
A night's work for a place to live,
Hazy dawn tired eyes filled with sorrow,
Empty now, Nightlife spark extinguished.
Carriage wheels grind, turn,
Changing, changing heaven and earth,
Somewhere there must be another life,
Waking from a dream, aftertast of nightlife!
Beyond the so-called "Golden Era" the Chinese people had to create their own world to survive in the foreign-controlled enclave. Their music was one important element to preserve their own identity during these difficult times. The masterwork "The Moon over a Fountain" composed 1939 by A Bing (whose given name was Hua, Yanjun, 1893-1950, the most well known folk musician in the recent history of China) resounded throughout the neighbourhoods next to the French Concession. And at the bar of the Peace Hotel (first opened as the Cathay Hotel in 1929) which was a strange fusion of ancient tradition and modernity, Eastern and Western, where Chinese bands played jazz and where Filipino show bands were entertaining in vaudevilles like the Paramount.
In 1937 the second Sino-Japanese war broke out and the Japanese occupied parts of Shanghai and controlled the city. During that time the biggest waveof immigration of Jews to Shanghai was caused by the Nazis, mainly from Germany, Austria and Poland between 1937 and 1943. About 20,000 central European refugees came to Shanghai, of which over 300 were musicians. Music - though in a difficult situation - was significant to these refugees, too. "Sehnsucht" ("Nostalgia"), a composition by Mischa Spoliansky expressed the feelings of many Jews, who tried to find a new home in the bombed out quarter Hongkew. Shanghai was one of the very few places on earth where nobody asked for any visas. And the Jews from Vienna, Munich and Berlin were playing Viennese music by Schrammel in cafe houses in "Little Vienna", a quarter that the Jews had built up stone by stone. In 1943 the Jews had to move to a ghetto and lost again what they had created with their own hands.
The end of World War II opened up the opportunity for the Jews to move to Israel, South America or the US. By the time the Communists took over in 1947, they had the job of eradicating slums, rehabilitating hundreds of opium addicts, stamping out child and slave labour, and driving out decadence. For the West, the party was over in Shanghai. But Shanghai's people have not had the possibility to find a new identification because of the cultural revolution, which dictated the new rules. "Ambush on all Sides" could be the characteristic hymn of the port at the Yangtze River.
Time goes by and the 1990s have seen invitations go out again to capitalist business interests as the central government hunts foreign capital to help reinvent this whirlwind metropolis. And the city continues to grow with new underground stations, highways, crisscrossing the city, the most modern stock exchange in the world and new cultural institutions. However despite the growth and international investment Shanghai is still a city of contradictions as poverty is still prevalent in the new "Babel at Yangtze River".
This project was possible with the musical support of Mr. Wang Yongji. Without him it would have been impossible to record the wonderful traditional Chinese music, the music style of Suzhou from the Yangtze delta, and Cantonese music. Thanks also to Dr. Tang Yating (for his great knowledge about Jews in Shanghai),The Monks at the Long Hua Temple (for their open-mindedness and cooperation), Mr. Zheng Deren (for exciting information about Shanghai's musical life in the 1930s and 1940s), Prof. Chen Gang (introduction to the music of his father, Mr. Chen Gexin), Mr. Wu Guangye (for his outstanding collection of shellac recordings), Brave Old World and Roswitha Dasch (for their great cooperation and musical teamwork), and the cooperation of the filmmakers Mr. Nicolas Humbert (Shanghai letters and photos of his grandfather Dr. Max Mohr), and Ms. Joan Grossman and Mr. Paul Rosdy (for making the documentary "Zuflucht in Shanghai: The Port of last Resort " with the music by John Zorn, the DVD of which is also released on Winter and Winter.
- Stefan Winter (Munich 2006)