13 March 2009

China: Preserving Jewish history

Local Chinese experts called on Shanghai's government to prevent historic buildings in Hongkou District's Jewish conservation zone from being demolished. The old buildings were discovered during a roadworks project.

According to the Shanghai Daily, a German cafe sign was discovered on one building, and another German-style building was found to have been the White Horse Inn, run by a Jewish couple for five years from 1939 before becoming a Jewish medical clinic.

The significance of the new discoveries was revealed by a journalist who showed photographs to conservationist and professor Ruan Yisan. After interviews with Jews who grew up there and local area residents, the details were confirmed.

"These buildings have fallen into decay," said Zhang Yanhua, research director of Asian Pacific Regions World Heritage Training and Research Center under the United Nations. "But they are of high historical value and they should be properly restored and preserved."
Some 20,000 Jews flocked to Shanghai - considered a safe haven - in the 1930s. In 1943, they were restricted to a square-mile area in Hongkou which was called Little Vienna.

Government officials said they were trying to balance preservation and modernization. In 2005, 70 acres was declared a conservation zone. Although the recently discovered buildings are in that protected area, they are not designated historic buildings.

Officials said they will try to remove and save valuable items such as the signs. The city says demolitions are necessary to create more roads, while conservation experts say the road should narrower or that the buildings should be moved.

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