Escape from Shanghai

Known as Paris of the Orient, Shanghai in 1941 was  a turbulent mass of humanity: an ethnic and cultural mix of British, Germans, Russians, Italians, French, Americans, Japanese and Chinese; an international enclave that was an exotic blend of refugees and expatriates, teeming with espionage, political intrigue and murder.

It was just days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. My cousin, Eva Baruch, an actress who had fled from the Nazis in 1938, and had established a new career for herself, working in both the Shanghai theater and for the British Ministry of Intelligence, where she produced radio shows aimed at Shanghai’s German speaking audience. Her two most recent ones: “Wien, Maerz 1938″, and “Die Moorsoldaten” were extremely anti Nazi, and had not gone over well with the local German authorities. In fact, she and her Jewish MBI colleagues were wanted by the Shanghai Gestapo. Facing imminent arrest, they had to get out of the country immediately.

But with most of Europe at war with Germany and another war looming in the Pacific, this was not an easy task. Three years earlier, she and her family escaped from Berlin after Kristalnacht, but this time it looked far worse because there appeared to be no way out.

Yet once again Eva did find a way to escape. Fortunately, her husband, Josef, had been working for the British Consulate. It was through his connection that Eva was able to secure a way out. On December 3, 1941, Eva, Josef and ten of her Jewish MBI associates, were quietly evacuated aboard the last Allied troop ship to leave Shanghai. It was an American vessel, the S/S Cape Fairweather, bound for Melbourne, Australia. Among the evacuees were the journalist/author, A.J. Storfer, and the well known playwright, Mark Siegelberg.

USS Cape Fairweather
USS Cape Fairweather


It’s doubtful that any other Jews were able to escape after that, because four days later, on Dec. 7th, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and seized control of Shanghai the next day.

Somehow the S/S Cape Fairweather was able to avoid the Japanese Fleet by meandering and hiding on its route between Singapore and Melbourne. But it took nearly a month to complete the voyage. Finally on December 30th, 1941 the ship, with its exhausted passengers, arrived safely at the Australian port.

See Eva’s complete story in four parts, beginning with Chapter #1, “Actress, Activist or Spy”


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