Oral History

Ernest G. Heppner describes the Shanghai ghetto and its Japanese overseer

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.


It was a ghetto. It was surrounded by barbed wire. And we were under a volunteer service called the Pao Chia, under the Japanese, um, uh, supervision. Uh, self-defense...kind of self-protection. Um, they wore armbands and they had to be at the ghetto exits and entrances, to guard against anybody leaving who was not authorized. And, uh, uh, at that time, conditions were such that the ghetto was governed by a very brutal, sadistic Japanese named Ghoya. He was paranoid, he was a psychopath, and he called himself the "king of the Jews." He was under Kobota. Kobota was one of those officers that I mentioned earlier. There are...I could talk an hour about Ghoya, what he did. He was so...he had such an inferiority complex, he would ask you--you stood in line for a day to get a pass if you still had a job outside. You could leave, could leave the ghetto provided you got a pass from him. The pass could be valid for one day or a month, up to his pleasure, for certain areas of the city. And you had to be back in the ghetto at a certain time of the day. And, um, he said...he started interrogating you. "Ah, your English is too good. No pass." Or, "You don't speak English. No pass." And if he didn't like you, he would jump on the desk and slap you. And if it really got bad, he would send you for one night into the bunker [punishment barracks]. The bunker itself was a death sentence, one night. Because the bunker was full of typhoid. Typhoid. Uh, if you got out of the bunker the next day, it would take about a week or two before you got ill, and...but everybody knew already you have about two weeks to live.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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