New York woman recounts escaping the Holocaust in China

Evelyn Pike Rubin was 8 years old in November 1938. At the time, she and her family lived in Nazi Germany when her father was arrested on Kristallnacht and brought to an internment camp. It didn't matter that her dad, who was named Benno, was a decorated German army veteran.

Kristallnacht is also called the Night of Broken Glass. The night anti-Semitic fervor in Nazi Germany boiled over and sparked a rash of violence. Windows of Jewish homes and businesses were shattered. Widespread looting ensued. Fires lit. Life for Evelyn had changed overnight.

"My father was released three weeks later as almost everyone at that time was released from these camps, told 'You have two months in which to leave the country,'" said Evelyn, now 86. "So my parents tried to find countries that would let us in. They tried to go to Brazil, they tried to go to Cuba, they tried to go to Argentina, they tried to go to Palestine."

But they couldn't get papers to go anywhere, except for one place they had heard of through word of mouth: China. So on February 13, 1939, Evelyn and her parents boarded a cruise ship called the Hakozaki Maru and soon arrived in Japanese-occupied Shanghai.

Her parents sold some valuables and started a typewriter business in China. Evelyn's grandmother joined them there a year later. Her family was among an estimated 20,000 European Jews who sought refuge in Shanghai during the war. They joined Iraqi Jews and Russian Jews who had previously settled in the city. As World War II raged on, life in Japanese-occupied Shanghai became harder for the Jewish people.

"Then came restrictions by the Japanese because the Nazis wanted them to kill us and they refused and their compromise was to put us into a ghetto area, and there wasn't enough food and there wasn't enough money to buy food," Evelyn said.

But they were still alive. Evelyn believes her father's arrest on Kristallnacht was a blessing in disguise because it forced her family out of Germany while they still could leave. Millions of others were not as fortunate.

"Oh I feel very, very lucky," Evelyn said. "All of us that were in Shanghai, we didn't realize how lucky we were until after the war and we found what had happened to our families and what had happened in Europe."

Although life in Shanghai was far from easy, it allowed Evelyn's family to avoid the extermination camps that millions of others could not. In 1993, Evelyn published an autobiography called Ghetto Shanghai. It's already in its third edition.

"Very important that the story be told," Evelyn said. "I'm alive today because of the Japanese."

Evelyn has shared her story with thousands of people over the years and in her home created a board covered with photos and precious documents. Her mind and memories are still sharp, and she works hard to keep the stories alive. She turns 87 this year and knows that time is of the essence.

"In 10 years there won't be any survivors around because they'll all be dead," Evelyn said.

Evelyn and her mother left Shanghai in 1947 and came straight to New York, where she later raised a family. Evelyn has four children, 12 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

In 1993 Evelyn returned to her childhood home in Shanghai and even reconnected with one of her Chinese neighbors. Evelyn feels blessed that she has been able to tell her unique story of survival, and she'll continue to do so, to anyone who will listen.