Lets help China remember its own occupation

The action alerts from various Jewish community organizations in an alliance to stop the genocide in Darfur have centered on our historical role in stopping ethnic cleansing, as we lost millions in the Holocaust.

While this is absolutely true, we have another way to frame our action campaigns toward the Chinese government.

Before the Olympic Games in Beijing, our activist groups should send a letter of gratitude to the Chinese for their help to our community in World War II. In the letter, we can show how both our history and the Chinese suffering during Japanese occupation should compel the Chinese government to stop its repression in Tibet and negotiate an end to the killing in Darfur. This could also be delivered to top Chinese officials via diplomatic means.

You’re probably wondering why I write about thanking the Chinese.

It’s not very well known in the Jewish community that about 20,000 Jewish refugees from Central and Eastern Europe lived in Shanghai during World War II. Shanghai was the only place that accepted Jewish refugees during the war. Most other places required visas. Various documentaries and books document the difficult life of Jews who fled to China during the war.

During my recent trip to China, I visited the Shanghai Ghetto, the 1-square-kilometer neighborhood where more than 20,000 Jews lived during World War II when China was under Japanese occupation. I walked around the neighborhood and in the park where the refugees often met. There was a plaque in Mandarin, Hebrew and English commemorating the stateless Jews who lived there until 1949. I’ve visited Auschwitz and Terezin in Europe and am completely aware of how the fate of these stateless Jews would have been had they not lived in China during the war.

Despite the harsh conditions of Japanese rule, Chinese families helped their Jewish neighbors survive throughout the tough economic and social conditions in the ghetto. I found the Chinese to be extremely friendly and helpful, even if we didn’t speak the same language. I imagined that they treated their Jewish guests with the same hospitality. They helped us even when they were poor. For that, we owe them gratitude.

China has been under fire for good reason for its poor human rights record and alliances with the Sudanese government. It hears only disapproval. It’s hard to take action when all one hears is criticism. The Chinese government may interpret our activist groups’ calls to action as nagging. How about showing China what we appreciate and what we know about its past? This may hit more chords and inspire the government to show its human side.

While the wrath of racial superiority politics murdered millions in Europe, the Japanese were terrorizing China with their stance of being racially above the Chinese. Thousands of Jews escaped the Holocaust by being able to live in Shanghai, but they were living in a country that was suffering greatly during Japanese rule. The Japanese invaded China in 1937 and stayed until Emperor Hirohito retreated from China at the end of World War II. The most famous casualty of the Japanese occupation was the Rape of Nanking, where Japanese troops murdered between 100,000 to 300,000 Chinese (the exact figures are not available).

The Chinese would have appreciated other superpowers forcing Japan to stop its terror in China during World War II, but the rest of the world was too busy fighting World War II. Currently, the United States has two unsuccessful wars going on and is not going to intervene in Tibet or Darfur. Most likely, the European Union won’t either.

China has the most leverage with the Sudanese government to stop the genocide. Not all Chinese remember the Japanese occupation, but the scars still remain. The Chinese government can pressure the Sudanese to stop the killing in Darfur because they remember what it felt like to be occupied and killed just for being Chinese.

China has the opportunity to show that it has learned from being oppressed and will not occupy Tibet and repress the sovereignty and freedom of Tibetans.

The campaigns directed toward China should focus on China’s history and our recognition for China’s sheltering Jews during World War II. Shanghai helped our brethren make it through years of cramped living conditions, now it’s time for them to show their care for humanity and help save other communities.

Susanna Zaraysky is a writer living in Cupertino. Her published work, blog and other writings can be accessed at www.susansword.com.