Over half a century ago, thousands of Jews fled the Holocaust and sought refuge in an unlikely place - the bustling Chinese port city of Shanghai.
"Shanghai Ghetto", filmed by the husband and wife team of Amir Mann and Dana Janklowicz-Mann, tells the little-known tale of 20,000 mostly German Jews who escaped to one of the few places open to non-visa holders as World War II began.
The film, which took five years to make and cost less than US$100,000, is narrated by Academy award winning actor Martin Landau. It opened in New York earlier this month.
The story is movingly told through the recollections of former refugees, two of whom the Manns took back to Shanghai with them to act as guides to the twisting alleys of the city's Hongkou District.
"Just listening to their stories was truly draining, heart-wrenching," Janklowicz-Mann, who co-directed and produced the 95-minute documentary, said.
She said she was inspired to make the film by the experiences of her own father in Shanghai as a refugee.
In interviews with survivors, pieced together with stock footage and still photos, the film tells how the Jewish refugees and the Chinese suffered together from malnutrition and disease under the Japanese occupation of the city.
"They (Chinese) were much worse off than we were," recalls one refugee in the film. "But surprisingly, there was no criticism, no anti-Semitism."
One remembered how, during many unbearably hot summer days, "The (Huangpu) river would overflow, and you would find (anything) in there... you name it, it was swimming in there."
The refugees escaped in the late 1930s, just as Hitler was initiating laws that prohibited Jews from working and forced them to wear the Star of David on their clothing.
Those who made it to Shanghai scraped out a living - many by repairing typewriters or opening cabarets.
Their predicament worsened as the war dragged on and Germany and Japan became allies. The occupying Japanese Government began imprisoning the Jews in Shanghai and the city became a military target for American bombers.
The occupying Japanese forces officially established a Jewish ghetto in 1943. They set stringent curfews, rationed food to the point that many came close to starving and set rules that made it difficult for ghetto residents to work.
When Shanghai was liberated at the end of the war in 1945, most of the Jewish refugees left to try to rebuild their lives in North America, Australia, and Israel. Many of them had lost their families in the death camps of Europe.
"They still have reunions every few years," said Janklowicz-Mann. "They spent their formative years there. Shanghai has a special place in their heart."
At times, the Manns had to secretly shoot scenes of places they did not have a permit to film. They managed to capture the site of the Shanghai Jewish School, where many of the refugees spent their teens and started their own soccer team.
And they filmed the Ohel Rachel Synagogue which remains a monument to the small Jewish community in Shanghai.
(Shanghai Star October 22, 2002)