Former Shanghai Jews Call for UN Protection of Refugee District

Survivors of European Jews who fled to Shanghai from Nazis want Tilanqiao Area called World Heritage Site.

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Survivors from among the 30,000 European Jews who found a haven in Shanghai from Nazi persecution are calling for their old refugee district to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

"The Tilanqiao Area, our second hometown, has special significance for the survival of European Jewish refugees," states the proposal, signed on Thursday by about 120 former refugees and their descendants gathered in the city for a reunion. Parts of the text were reprinted in local newspapers on Friday.

Shanghai was an open city in the 1930s under mixed Chinese and colonial governance, making it one of the last places to which European Jews could flee without a visa. Almost all departed after the end of World War II and the 1949 establishment of communist rule in China.

Seeking to celebrate the city's unique contribution and attract tourists, Shanghai has recognized a 28 hectare (69-acre) former Jewish district in Tilanqiao, north of the city center, and raised a monument there to the now-extinct community.

However, a spokesman for the Hongkou district government that includes the area said it had no plans to formally apply for UNESCO status.

"Applying is a suggestion raised by our Jewish friends. We consider it as a good idea and we don't deny there maybe a possibility to do so in the future," said the spokesman, speaking on routine condition of anonymity.

While most UNESCO World Heritage Sites are hundreds of years old or older, the organization in 1979 granted that status on another key reminder of the Holocaust, the Nazi Concentration Camp at Auschwitz.

Shanghai in recent years has seen thousands of historic buildings fall to the wrecking ball as the city seeks to reclaim its status as an East Asian commercial center.

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