An entry in an address book: Goldstein, Erich, Oppeln, Plakatmaler, 153 Lisoyang.
That was the one fragmentary detail about my husband Brian’s family that we discovered during a pleasurable Sunday afternoon with Sonja Mühlberger. Sonja and Brian’s mother Maude were both born in Shanghai just a few months apart in 1939. Both girls were in utero during the passage to Shanghai, born into families who took refuge from the Nazis in one of the last available havens for German Jews. After looking through many photos to see if Brian could recognize a young Maude Goldstein (he couldn’t), Sonja showed us her copy of the 1939 address book where we found a listing for his Papa Erich.
Maude died when Brian was young so he never had a chance to learn much about her early childhood in Hongkou, Shanghai’s designated area for Jews. Sometimes referred to as the Shanghai Ghetto, it was a ghetto without walls, inhabited by Jews, Chinese, Russians, and a broad assortment of misfits and adventurers. Sonja told of a relatively happy childhood within this two and a half square kilometer area far from the land her parents missed and would return to after the war. Her recollections gave Brian some reassurance about his mother’s childhood and insight into what it must have been like.
Thanks to Sonja for sharing her stories with us, for opening a window into the life led by the mother-in-law I never met. We enjoyed visiting Sonja at her home in Friedrichshagen, the southeastern community of Berlin where she has lived since 1961. Her deep roots in the region were evident from the many people who greeted her when we strolled down to the Müggelsee after our Kaffee and Apfelkuchen.
If you’d like to learn more about Sonja, her story of survival in Shanghai is featured in the same Deutsche Welle German Jewish Cultural Heritage Series that our family participated in.