|Copyright New York Post Corporation Dec 9,
THE Port of Last Resort," a documentary that opens
today at Anthology Film Archives, is a fascinating look at the
intense clash of cultures that occurred when 20,000 Jews fled
Hitler's Europe for Shanghai in the late '30s and early '40s.
Co-directors Joan Grossman and Paul Rosdy resist
the temptation to be anything but straightforward as they combine
home movies, excerpts from letters, refugees' reminiscences,
newsreels, music and other archival material to explore a
little-known chapter in Jewish history.
Their restraint pays off. "Port" is a moving look
at survival in alien and harsh surroundings, one that will touch a
chord not only in those who follow Holocaust history, but in anyone
who has ever been homesick.
Jews ended up in China, the film explains, not out
of any interest in Chinese culture but because few other countries
were willing to take them then.
Recalls former refugee Fred Fields: "There is one
place on earth where you can go without any paper, no permit, no
affidavit, no visa. You just get there -- that's Shanghai."
Arriving by ship, with just eight German marks
apiece, the Jews lived on charity at first, then managed to build a
thriving Jewish community, complete with newspapers, theater and
While some dreamed of Europe, America or Israel,
others found themselves attracted to the Far East. "God forgive me,
[Shanghai] was the most exciting and unique city in the world. She
was poison, and the old-time Shanghai-landers were addicts who could
never free themselves from being in love with her," wrote one
But after the Japanese tightened their hold on
Shanghai in 1942, the Jews were forced to live in a ghetto and
suffered from severe malnutrition and disease.
In spite of their mixed feelings about the years
they spent in their Far Eastern refuge, several admitted that they
wouldn't want to have missed the experience of living there, and
this compelling film makes clear why.
It's playing with John Burgan's "Memory of Berlin,"
a documentary about an Englishman's search for his birth parents in