This piece was first published in The Times of Israel.
A 92-year-old Holocaust survivor’s search for a long-lost love in Shanghai has captured the imagination of China’s romantics. News stories continue to appear there about Gary Matzdorff’s May trip to China’s second-biggest city from his home in Granada Hills, Calif., hoping to find a Chinese woman he almost married — had she not dumped him and run off with an American sailor.
Matzdorff, whose testimony has been recorded by the Shoah Foundation, arrived in Shanghai in 1938 as a German refugee fleeing the Nazi regime. He was 18 when he left Berlin with his parents and grandmother. His paternal grandparents were murdered in concentration camps.
The family settled in Shanghai’s Hongkou district, a one-square-mile area designated as the “Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees” in 1943 by the occupying Japanese. Approximately 23,000 European Jewish refugees lived in the area, known colloquially as the Shanghai Ghetto.
At the request of The Times of Israel, Irene Eber
, an emeritus Hebrew University professor and expert on Jews and China, searched for evidence of the Matzdorff family in Shanghai. She found Matzdorff’s father, Herbert, a furrier, listed in a 1939 directory of Jewish refugees in the city.
In 1941, before the worst hardships of the war took hold, Matzdorff met Cleo Wang on the dance floor at the Wing On department store ballroom.
Wang had been educated at an American school in Shanghai, and she surprised him by responding with “okey doke” to his request (in a note written on a napkin) to meet her later that evening.
© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.
Tags: China, Cleo Wang, Gary Matzdorff, German Jewish refugees, Holocaust, Holocaust refugees, Jewish refugees, Shanghai, Shanghai Ghetto, WWII