So I started going to the Shanghai Jewish School…

I have two photos of me from my five or so childhood years in Shanghai. The earliest one is a photo of my class at the Shanghai Jewish School, from some time in 1945 or ’46. I’m the fourth boy from the left in the back row.
s 008sjc fII crop2

And here’s a 300% enlargement of a crop from that photo which may give a better picture of what I looked like that day.

I started going to the Shanghai Jewish School some time after I became consciously a Jew, after my “initiation” into Judaism which I wrote about in a previous memoiring, The day my father died, Yom Kippur, 1945, in Shanghai. I quite liked going there. I liked our teacher, Mr. Radet, a kind man who taught us patiently & without threats, even when we sometimes annoyed him. The lessons were in English, though we started every morning with a class reading in Hebrew of the Shema Yisrael prayer, in Sephardic pronunciation because the school was a Sephardi institution. (By then I had already started learning some Hebrew at a Talmud-Torah run by the synagogue my father had taken me to, where the pronunciation used was Ashkenazi, but I found no great difficulty in adapting to the simpler Sephardi forms.)

One thing that annoyed Mr Radet was the way some of us (I among them) would often emphatically pronounce one word in the prayer, sometimes also without being able to suppress our giggles. This didn’t happen in the first line, which we all understood as telling all Jews, “Israel”, to hear & know (& remember by saying it every day) that JHVH our God, our God is One; nor in the next, where it says (we may have had these words explained to us too, I don’t remember) that you’ll love your God JHVH with all your heart & soul & might; but in the next part, which says that the things He’s commanding you today are to be on [in?] your heart, & continues: veshinanta levaneykha vedibarta bam beshivtehkha bveytekha uvalekhtekha baderekh uveshakhvehkha uvequmekha, “and you’ll repeat them to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your home & when you go along the way & when you lie down & when you get up”. We’d pronounce it as bum, which for us, then, was a naughty word…

On the verso of the photo are the names I wrote then of those of my classmates who were present the day the photo was taken. Unfortunately I wrote the initials only of the given names, of which I remember only one, that of the boy on the right, Dicky Razon, who lived not far from where I did.
sjc fII verso
But there were classmates who must have been absent on the day the photo was taken. I know this from autographs other classmates wrote in the autograph book I still have from my last months at this school, which I’ll write about towards the end of this page.


I also liked the daily journeys to and from school. The school was in the “International Settlement”, which had been controlled by the British and the Americans before it was occupied by the Japanese after Pearl Harbour, and all the street names & the names of institutions there were in English, while in the French Concession where we lived all those names were in French. It was almost like crossing a border from one country to another twice a day. Even though the Chinese people in the streets of both sections seemed no different in their clothes or language or behavior (all of which; like most “Europeans” in Shanghai, I had learned largely to ignore; more about this another time, perhaps), the atmospheres in these two sections of the city were different. I would walk the short distance from our home in Rue de Cardinal Mercier (see the red dot in the map below) to the broad Avenue Joffre, then one block left to wait for a trolley (some days I met Dicky Razon there & we would travel together) for the long ride up the Avenue du Roi Albert which, on the other side of Avenue Foch  – the boundary of the French Concession  (marked with a thick brown line in the middle of the map) – became Seymour Road.  (I knew that Joffre and Foch had been important “marshals” in the French army in World War I , but had no idea who the Roi Albert was until I googled it today & found the avenue had been given this name by the French in honor of King Albert II of Belgium.)

shnghai toSJS map

There you had to get off & walk across the road to catch another trolley & buy another ticket for the remainder of the ride. The school, which was on that road (the green rectangle in the top left corner), was a formidable building, though not as magnificent as Ohel Rachel, the great Sephardi synagogue beside it.

An aerial view of the Ohel Rachel synagogue. In the foreground: the corner edge of the school roof

Earlier during the war the Japanese had closed the school and synagogue for some time and taken over the buildings over for to use as headquarters and barracks, as they had also done with the Cathay Theatre on the corner of Avenue Joffre and Rue de Cardinal Mercier, but now they had returned the complex to its previous owners. When I started going there, there were still signs of damage their occupation had done to the buildings, but reconstruction was already in progress.

I don’t remember what we studied. The anecdote I told above is my only actual memory. There must have been the usual combination of lessons, English, maths, probably history & geography & Hebrew & bible stories. I don’t remember any sport or art activities. Anyhow, I did pretty well as a student there, won second prize in the class one year & was awarded a book, Tom Sawyer Abroad, which I still have with me, but never enjoyed as much as the first Tom Sawyer & certainly not as much as Huckleberry Finn.

As my phrasing on the verso of the class photo suggests, I got along OK with most of the other pupils in my class, but had no particular close friend or friends I played or did things with; in fact I was very much a loner (already!) in those years, after my break-up with Joboy  & Jessie, which I remember grieving over for a long time. I also clearly remember that it was simultaneous with my break-away from Christianity but today I no longer remember why: I don’t know if my parents forbade me to see them again, or if I went to the back fence once more & told Joboy that I was a Jew &/or if that led to his parents forbidding him & his sisters to see me, or if he got angry at me & thought that I’d been lying to him all this time, pretending to be a Catholic (at this point in time I don’t even know myself if that’s what I’d been doing all that time). Anyhow, we didn’t see each other at all any more for a long time, a year, perhaps two, & though we became friends again, it wasn’t quite the same.

But I had my own interests  –  I read a lot, I followed the progress of the war, listening to the news in Russian, which I understood very well by then (as I’ve mentioned briefly in Tatuś, tatusiu:  (What I called my Dad in Polish); on weekends & holidays I would sometimes go to the Soviet Youth Club & later also to Betar, which I either heard about in school or was told about some friend of my parents; & then the war in Europe ended, & a few months later the war with Japan ended, & the American soldiers arrived, & a whole new & exciting era began for me (I’m planning to write about these things in the next pages of my memoirings).

At a certain point it began becoming clearer that the Communist forces would take Shanghai within the year. The American forces would not stay to fight them, and without them it was not likely that the Chiang Kai-shek’s Chungking forces would fight to try to keep Shanghai. What this meant for all “Europeans” living there was that they would have to leave Shanghai soon. In about mid-October, autograph books started appearing at school. The first ones to bring them were the kids that were leaving soon. My class-mates David Blanker, Harry Klajman and Daniel Kriesberg (none of whom are in the photo) were all going to New York, and asked me to write messages of farewell in their autograph book. I wrote that I was very sad that we were separating and very happy for them that they were going to New York, and very jealous too (by then I had formed a picture of America as the best place in the world for a kid to live in). And I asked my mother to bring me an autograph book from the American PX where she had managed to get a job. Even though we weren’t leaving yet, & didn’t yet have a permit to go to any other country, I wanted some of those who were already leaving to write messages in my own book – Joboy had already told me that at the end of November the San Lazaro family would be leaving their mansion and garden and the city of Shanghai for ever – and I also wanted to start collecting autographs early, because we would be leaving some time too.

When I got it, I wrote on the pink page stuck to the front cover: “NOTICE / To write in my album / My friends I invite/ But to tear out pages/ I call impolite”, and on the facing pink page, in a handwritten scrawl: “This Autograph belongs/ to R. Flantz/ Recieved on 24/10/45/ Shanghai”). David wrote: “Farewell, Dear Richard”, and quoted: “Here’s a sigh to those who love me/ And a smile to those who hate/ And, whatever’s sky above me,/ Here’s a heart for every fate. your David. D. Blanker/ Shanghai. ch. Latter address : 71 Hig Street N.Y.” Harry wrote “Forget M/ Forget E/ But remember me”, and signed.daniel auto crop1 And Daniel wrote: “Dear Richard – 26/10/1945” with a drawing of a sunflower on the right and of a seven-petalled leaf on the left of that, and then “My best wishes to you and your family. I hope you shall remember me forever for I shall never forget you. Remember me as your chum, Daniel”. Another friend, also not in the photo, the girl who – according to a memoiring I wrote many years ago – I shared a desk with in class, and felt much affection for, wrote: “North South / East West / Of all my friends / I love you best // From your best friend Zaia Hania”. I don’t know if any of them remember me, but I have to admit I don’t remember any of them, what they looked like, how close we were, nothing. The faces in the class photograph do arouse feelings of recognition, I seem to remember, yes, that was someone I was in school with. I also seem to remember that for some of the time I had a secret crush on a girl called Lily (quite possibly the second from the right in the front row).



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