Oral History

Ernest G. Heppner describes the random nature of receiving passes to enter and exit the Shanghai ghetto area

Ernest's family owned a factory that made matzah, the unleavened bread eaten during Passover. In February 1939, three months after Kristallnacht (the "Night of Broken Glass" pogroms), Ernest and his mother fled to Shanghai, one of few havens for refugees without visas. His father and sister stayed behind in Germany; they perished during the Holocaust. A brother escaped to England. Ernest and his mother found work in Shanghai. In 1947, he came to the United States with his wife, whom he met and married in Shanghai.


The Japanese...the organization that controlled the ghetto contained, of course, several officers and the officers with their own responsibilities. Among them was a short little fellow by name of Ghoya whose responsibility it was to issue passes for you to leave the ghetto if you had to. That was very necessary for many of us who still had jobs outside gh...outside the ghetto area. I couldn't for instance go back to my bookstore unless I got a pass from Ghoya. And that was little bit difficult. First of all, you stood in the heat for days sometimes to get into his office. Thousands wanted to get the pass. Then he was very, uh, how shall I say... very, uh...I can't think of the word right now. Sometimes he give you a pass and sometimes he doesn't. If you want a month's pass, he would give you a day's pass. And if you were tall and he was so short he jumped up on the desk and would slap you in the face. And, uh, you never knew if you would get a pass after standing in line for two days. So that was one of the major problems for most of us who had jobs or other responsibilities outside the ghetto area. Some passes were good for one month, some passes were only good for one day. And you were never sure that you really received what you needed. So many of us gave up their jobs, including me, because I just couldn't bear the thought of standing in front of that guy, you know, and everybody was afraid of him.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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