Children of Stateless Refugees, Hongkew, Shanghai, China (April 1946)

Many of the Hongkew refugee children were born in China. Some attended schools that were organized by educators in the refugee camps. All of these children spoke German and English, a few had learned Chinese. Photo by Arthur Rothstein

Timely Exhibition Echoes the Perilous Issues Confronting Our World Today 

At the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU in Miami Beach: March 13 ─ May 20

The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIUpresents the U.S. premiere of Stranded in Shanghai: Arthur Rothstein’s Photographs of the Hongkew Ghetto, 1946, the timely exhibition featuring a lesson from history about tolerance, compassion for human suffering and solidarity. These themes ring true just as powerfully today during our troubled times as they did in the 1940s, when Shanghai became the last hope for desperate refugees fleeing Nazi terror.

There were 20,000 European Jews who escaped certain death by spending the war years in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, with nowhere else to go because they were turned away by so many other countries. Many of these refugees fled their homes in Europe under great duress without transit papers or money, and didn’t know what happened to loved ones left behind. Just like so many refugees and migrants facing similar issues today, they had no other place to escape to and surely would have died if not for this sanctuary in Shanghai.

The photographs in this exhibition are the only remaining visual testimony of this refugee crisis. The exhibition is on view March 13 – May 20 at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, located in the heart of Miami Beach’s Art Deco District at 301 Washington Avenue.

Arthur Rothstein with Rolleiflex Camera, In China, with the US Army Signal Corps (1945)

After the end of World War II Arthur Rothstein became the chief photographer in China for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). While working for UNRRA he photographed the community of European Jewish refugees in Shanghai during April of 1946. By this time Rothstein had more than ten years of intensive experience working as a social documentary photographer for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, the US Office of War Information, and Look Magazine.

The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU is thrilled to present the U.S. premiere of Stranded in Shanghai,” said the museum’s Executive Director, Susan Gladstone. “We are honored to shine a light on this little-known segment of history that mirrors so much of our present. We must know history in order to proceed successfully with our future.”

„Rothstein’s works are truthful and unflinching, and were it not for these photographs the experiences of these refugees and the lessons we can learn from them today would have been lost forever,” adds Gladstone. Miami Beach is the first city in the U.S. to present this exhibition, after showings in Prague and at Slovenia’s Festival of Tolerance.


Throughout his career, Rothstein considered himself to be a photojournalist and a “social documentary photographer,” capturing images that explored issues of class, poverty, discrimination and economic opportunity. The photographer’s life, and his 50-year career as one of America’s most prominent photojournalists, offer multiple lessons to our present generations regarding displacement, migration, resettlement and tolerance.

Rothstein’s photographs provide a window into the collective experience of the refugee community, and into the lives of individuals who had found a temporary home ̶ and tolerance ̶ in Shanghai. After the war ended, these stateless refugees became “displaced persons.”

Crowded Quarters for European Refugees, Hongkew, Shanghai, China. April 1946

Jammed into communal housing, German and Austrian refugees live out of steamer trunks and sleep in bunkbeds. Clothing is hung from the ceiling to save space. Photo by Arthur Rothstein

Heim on Chaoufoong Road, Hongkew, Shanghai, China (April 1946)

This is a communal home (in German, heim), one of eight operated by international relief agencies for destitute Jewish refugees in Shanghai. In each heim, men had separate quarters from women, and conditions were severely overcrowded.  Photo by Arthur Rothstein

Most would survive the War, despite the severe conditions and deprivations of life in the Japanese-occupied port city. At war’s end in 1945 many were destitute and unable to return to Europe, facing an unwelcoming world where once again most countries would not welcome Jews. Even more terror was imminent: these 20,000 refugees would soon be forced to flee again due to the encroaching Civil War in China. Rothstein, one of the world’s foremost photojournalists, hoped his photographs would bring attention to their plight.  

In the spring of 1946, Rothstein, the young Jewish-American documentary photographer, was discharged from the American Army in China and was hired as chief photographer for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). The UNRRA was an international relief agency founded during World War II to give aid to areas liberated from the Axis powers. Rothstein’s mission was to create a photographic record of UNRRA’s enormous humanitarian effort (spending over $518 million dollars) to defeat hunger and rebuild infrastructure in China. UNRRA also assisted “displaced persons.” 

A special preview reception is free for Members of the museum, FIU faculty/staff and students on Monday, March 12 from 6:30-9:00 p.m. ($10 for non-members). At the opening, the photographer’s daughter, Ann Rothstein-Segan, PhD, will present a lecture and intimate portrait of her father’s life and his illustrious career. She will describe the unusual circumstances that brought her father into this remote enclave of European Jews in China and reveal how his photographs of the community were lost for twenty-five years, only to be recovered with the help of an unlikely collaborator.

On Sunday, March 18, at 5:00 p.m. the museum will present a film screening of Above the Drowning Sea, the film about these European Jews escaping the Nazis to Shanghai. Filmed in six countries and over seven continents, the film explores via personal interviews the intense experiences and life-long bonds shared between Jewish refugees and the Chinese residents of Shanghai, whose tolerance and support were critical in their survival.

Refugee Doctors’ Offices, Hongkew, Shanghai, China (April 1946)

Refugee doctors established medical practices in Shanghai. In the office pictured here, with the boy standing in front of the signs, several doctors shared a single space, each with his own designated days and hours. The photo is a good example of the documentary techniques Rothstein learned on the road with the US Farm Security Administration during the 1930s. Small details in his photographs of street scenes, signs, advertisements and people convey important historical information. 

Leaving UNRRA Food Distribution Center, Hongkew, Shanghai, China (April 1946)

A refugee woman carries her ration of food and clothing from a distribution center in Hongkew. Relief workers of the AJDC and UNRRA are in the background. The food rations were an essential lifeline for many Jewish refugees. Photos by Arthur Rothstein 


Rothstein’s photographs provide insight into the historical role of the photographer in the service of international organizations, and into the important role of photojournalism in zones of conflict and humanitarian conflict.

This exhibition tells the stories and experiences of the refugees of the still mostly unknown Shanghai Ghetto – Jewish refugees from Austria, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary who sought sanctuary in Shanghai at a time when, with rare exceptions, the entire world was refusing to accept Jews.

Rothstein’s photographs include striking images: the haunting entrance gate to the ghetto, the crowded conditions of communal homes, a glimpse of what it was like to live in meager and unsanitary conditions with food and clothing rations as a lifeline, the lives of children and infants who were born into these conditions, the harsh severance of communication with Europe, and the challenge of searching for those left behind. 

Many European Jewish refugees arrived in Shanghai from late 1938 through 1940, due to the state-sanctioned violence that resulted in Kristallnacht (Crystal Night or Night of Broken Glass), a pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany on November 9-10, 1938. Jews were systematically disposed of money and property and fled to Shanghai with few resources.

In 1946, the UNRAA proposed to repatriate 1,700 Germans and 1,300 Austrians to their homelands, but only a few returned. Most refugees went on to find permanent homes in Israel, the U.S., Australia and other countries. 

Refugees Read Eviction Notice, Hongkew, Shanghai, China (April 1946) Photo by Arthur Rothstein

Hongkew refugees glumly read the Shanghai government proclamation ordering them to evacuate their homes. Even after the war ended refugees were engaged in the daily struggle to maintain a minimum dignified existence. This eviction notice was posted unexpectedly, directing residents to move during Passover. Relief officials from UNRRA later secured a cancellation of the order.


By Order of the Municipal Gov’t. notice is hereby given that for the necessity of the Municipal Gov’t. this building should be used by the Revenue Office on 21 April 1946. Immigrants are thereby informed to leave the rooms vacant before that date concerned and to move to the next building, 150 Wayside Rd. and the Alcock Camp, 66 Alcock Rd. For the sake of convenience, the date of handover is now postponed to 22 April 1946, no more Notice will be given.

The Tax Bureau, Hongkew District


Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985) was one of America’s premier photojournalists of the twentieth century. During his 50-year career, he created an indelible visual record of life and opened windows to the world for the American people during the golden era of magazine photography. He grew up in New York City, and as a student at Columbia University he founded the University Camera Club.

He was hired early on as one of the first photographers to document and publicize the widespread displacement and migration of farmers and industrial workers, caused by the Great Depression. From 1935 through 1940, Rothstein and the other photographers working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) Photo Unit shot some of the most significant photographs ever taken of rural and small-town America. One of Rothstein’s most well-known photographs is the iconic image of the Dust Bowl era, A Farmer and his Two Sons during a Dust Storm in Cimarron County, often included in high school history text books to illustrate the era.

Arthur Rothstein with Rolleiflex Camera, detail. In China, with the US Army Signal Corps (1945)

Two Refugees and “V“ Sign, Hongkew, Shanghai, China (April 1946) Photo by Arthur Rothstein. Ernestine Brandt, age 74 and Emma Scharff, age 70. Two German ladies, relieved by the allied victory over the Japanese, but uncertain of their future. They are relaxing in the courtyard of the Ward Road heim for European Jewish refugees where they have been living since 1940. (“V for Victory” had been an important symbol of the allied campaign during the war.)

In 1940, Rothstein became a staff photographer for Look Magazine, but soon left to join the U.S. Office of War Information. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corp in Asia. After World War II, he took a limited assignment as chief photographer in China for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Returning from China in 1946, he rejoined Look where he became Director of Photography until the magazine ceased publication in 1971. He went on to hold the same position at Parade Magazine.

Throughout his career, Rothstein served as a staff columnist for leading photography magazines and The New York Times. He was a faculty member at several universities and Rothstein mentored a number of younger photographers including Stanley Kubrick, Charlotte Brooks, Doug Kirkland, Chester Higgins Jr, and John Shearer. Arthur published nine books on photography including textbooks on photojournalism and documentary photography.

Rothstein was the recipient of more than 35 awards in photojournalism. His photographs are in the permanent collections of museums throughout the world. At the U.S. Library of Congress thousands of his images are freely and permanently accessible to the public.

Refugees Search Lists of Concentration Camp Survivors, Hongkew, Shanghai, China (April 1946)

From early 1942 direct communication between Shanghai and Europe had become almost impossible. After the war ended in August of 1945, rumors of the mass extermination of Jews in Europe began reaching China, and by early 1946 the scale of the holocaust was becoming clear. Relief agencies such as AJDC and UNRRA sought to reunite survivors and displaced people. Lists of European concentration camp survivors were posted in Shanghai, but successful reunions were the rare exception. In this poignant photograph, refugees search the lists for relatives and friends who may have survived the holocaust in Europe. Photo by Arthur Rothstein

Community Courtyard Kitchen and Laundry, Hongkew, Shanghai, China (April 1946)

A cluttered courtyard between grimy buildings serves as a community laundry and kitchen for refugee families.  Despite the challenging conditions, they prepare traditional German and Austrian dishes over improvised stoves using surplus US Army field rations. Photo by Arthur Rothstein


The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU serves as a major cultural attraction and source of information for a wide audience of residents, tourists, students and scholars of all ages and backgrounds from throughout the state, nation, and the world. Located in a former synagogue that housed Miami Beach’s first Jewish congregation, the museum’s restored 1936 Art Deco building and 1929 original synagogue are both on the National Register of Historic Places.

The 301 building features nearly 80 stained glass windows, a copper dome, marble bimah and many Art Deco features including chandeliers and sconces. The Jewish Museum of Florida is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed on Mondays and holidays. Admission: Adults $6; Seniors $5; Families $12; Members and children under 6 always free; Saturdays-Free. For more information call 305-672-5044 or visit

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