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WYES to air TV special on ‘Shanghailanders’ beginning Sept. 8

“Harbor from the Holocaust” shares the story of 20,000 Jewish refugees who fled Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II to the city of Shanghai.

The program airs beginning Sept. 8, 2020.

A production of WQED, the one-hour film explores the extraordinary relationship the refugees, known as “Shanghailanders,” had with their adopted city through the bitter years of the Japanese occupation from 1937 to 1945 and the bitter Chinese civil war that followed.

The program premieres Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 9:0p.m. on WYES-TV and can be streamed live at and on the WYES app.

Through personal recollections, interviews with historians, archival footage and music, the documentary tells the story of a group of people who, in tragic contrast with those who could not escape, were given a second chance. “This is a Holocaust story of life — not easy, not without loss and hardship — but perhaps one that is largely unknown but for the people who can still share their view of survival,” says Executive Producer Darryl Ford Williams. “There is a contemporary context that is undeniable in reflecting on this narrative of people who found a way to live when country after country around the world closed their borders and turned their backs on those in need.”

Taking a captivating look at this moment, Harbor from the Holocaust reveals why Shanghai was uniquely positioned, through geo-political, cultural and historical influences, to allow this remarkable influx to happen, due to those past relations with Jews predominantly from the Middle East, the Iberian Peninsula and Russia, and because of its centuries of control by and openness to foreigners as a vigorous center of trade and commerce. Through extraordinary recollections, the film highlights the stories of exceptional artists, statesmen and authors, as well as ordinary people who survived to carry on their Jewish religion and traditions.

The story, much like the city itself, is nuanced and complex, incorporating many kinds of foreigners, many classes of Chinese, many kinds of Jews, and many layers. Shanghai was not a place of tolerance and openness, so much as it was a place of fractionalized, disparate forces, which were sometimes competitive and sometimes complementary, but always existed within tenuous and often difficult transactional alliances. Even the people whose stories are shared have varying tales of how they lived in Shanghai, what their families experienced, and how they were able to function on a day-to-day basis.

Music plays an important role in the film evoking the time, the fear, the pain and the joy of the “Shanghailanders.” Orchestrated by musician and composer Chad Cannon, one of the special musical moments is a duet with violinist Niv Ashkenazi and guzheng player Beibei Monter. Ashkenazi performs on a “violin of hope,” a violin that survived the Holocaust and was restored. Of note, Yo Yo Ma also performs a piece for the film that was composed by his father entitled “Poème pour Violoncelle et Orchestre.” Ma’s father, Hiao-Tsuin Ma, studied with a great Chinese violinist in Shanghai. He taught at Nanjing University but continued his studies in Shanghai. Ultimately, he followed his teacher’s musical path to Paris, but the seeds of this composition were rooted in his experience in Shanghai as were the life stories of the “Shanghailanders.”

The producer and director of “Harbor from The Holocaust” is  Violet Du Feng, while Darryl Ford Williams serves as executive producer. Edited by Michelle Chang, the orchestration is by Chad Cannon. .

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