Brother, Sister Recall Jewish Life In A Chinese Ghetto During WWII
A New York-based brother and sister are sharing in a new memoir their gut-wrenching family journey during World World II in a Jewish ghetto in Shanghai, China. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.
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The Wacs family was classified as "stateless" in 1939, when the family of four fled Vienna for Shanghai during World War Two.
More than 70 years later, the two children, Ilie Wacs and Deborah Strobin West Side, are now New York residents. They share a piece of Jewish history that is not widely known in their new book, "An Uncommon Journey: From Vienna To Shanghai To America: A Brother And Sister Escape To Freedom During World War II."
From 1938 to 1945, as many as 20,000 Jewish refugees were relocated to what is known as the Shanghai ghetto in China, which was controlled by Japanese troops.
Had the Wacs family remained in Eastern Europe, they may have been murdered by the Nazi regime.
“Shanghai was the only place we could go to in 1939," says Wacs.
“The conditions were extremely extremely primitive. We lived in one room, four people, for 10 years,” says Strobin.
In their memoir, the siblings explain just how lucky they were to get out of Austria alive.
"It’s the only community that survived the war intact in enemy territory,” says Wacs.
For years, Wacs and Strobin kept their family story to themselves, until they recently visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C and spotted an unidentified childhood photo of Deborah. It brought back a tidal wave of memories.
"I remember when that picture was taken. I know why it was taken, it was really used for propaganda purposes and I remember the Japanese soldier telling us to sit down and to smile," says Strobin.
The family left China for the United States in 1949 and rebuilt their lives.
Wacs, who lives in Manhattan, became a renowed fashion designer and artist. Strobin became a philathropist, giving back to others in need.
"You have to look forward. You have to try to make things better, especially if you didn’t have it that way as a child," says Strobin.