School Stories Shared from Jewish Refugees and Shanghai

Posted on March 14th, 2019 by

This post was written by JMM School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!


From February 3rd to March 10th, the JMM hosted a special exhibit created by the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum titled Jewish Refugees and Shanghai. While only on display for a mere 26 days, we had 8 schools visit 13 times with over 240 students, teachers and chaperones. A special shout out to the Park School of Baltimore who visited 4 times with their 4 Chinese studies classes!

Jewish Refugees and Shanghai explored the often-untold stories of the Jewish people who sought sanctuary in Shanghai during World War II. This multi-lingual exhibit (printed in both English and Chinese) weaved together the first-person experiences sharing stories of resilience and cross-cultural expectance.

Washington Yu Ying School 5 grade students exploring the panels in Jewish Refugees and Shanghai.

The exhibit provided students an opportunity to not only learn more about the history of Jewish refugees during WWII, but also the ability to interact with, and conduct research using, primary sources. These primary sources included historical photographs, birth certificates, wedding certificates, and travel documentation.

Sidwell Friends School 8th grade class learning about the story of Sonja Muhlberger and investigating her birth certificate.

The JMM education team developed an archival exploration which looked at items once owned by Jewish Refugees living in the Hongkou Ghetto and Shanghai as a whole. Critical to the development of the archival exploration was our Museum Educator Alex. Alex said this of the program:

“The Shanghai Refugees exhibit was such a great opportunity to showcase this important little-known story to our visiting school groups as a way of talking about immigration and refugees in the past as well as in current events. For our education program, we were able to highlight artifacts from the JMM archive that told the story of Wilhelm and Selma Kurz, a local couple who came to Baltimore after spending a number of years as refugees in Shanghai. Using the exhibit panels as inspiration, I designed an original panel using photographs and documents belonging to Wilhelm and Selma as well as a map that showed their journey around the world.”

Students from Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School working together in a group.

At the end of the program, students summarized the stories they learned, such as that of Wilhelm and Selma Kurz, and shared them with the class. Here are some of their responses:

“Inge and Peter lived in Shanghai where they each met important people in their lives. Inge met her husband, Ernie, and Peter met his nanny, mentor and art teacher, Amah.”

“Shortly after fleeing Germany, Wilhelm and Selma got married and lived in Shanghai for 7-8 years before moving to Baltimore.”

“Sonya’s parents fled to Shanghai to escape the Nazis, where she was born and later she went back to Germany as a teacher and activist.”

Students from Sidwell Friends School presenting their research to the group.

Students from Washington Yu Ying School sharing the stories they learned about.

Reflecting upon the program, Museum Educator Marisa shared that:

“Working with the students that came for our Jewish Refugees and Shanghai educational program was incredibly fulfilling. They analyzed the exhibit’s primary sources, asked insightful questions, and retold these survivors’ stories. Many of the students who visited us are studying Chinese in their schools, and these students also engaged with the original Chinese language text, working together to understand and interpret the meaning of the characters. Overall, I felt that the students left having gained a greater understanding not just of this often-untold story, but of the many challenges facing Jewish people seeking refuge in the 1930’s.”

Our education team is working hard to develop unique experiential programs for our upcoming exhibit Stitching History from the Holocaust, on loan to us from the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee, and the next JMM original exhibit Fashion Statement. We look forward to sharing more stories that connect students to Maryland’s Jewish roots.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland