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A Rare Firsthand Account from a Young Refugee

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Survival in Shanghai:
The Journals of Fred Marcus 1939-49

by Audrey Friedman Marcus and Rena Krasno
With a Foreword by Deborah E. Lipstadt


(The following is adapted from the Preface to the book)

The book SURVIVAL IN SHANGHAI: THE JOURNALS OF FRED MARCUS 1939-49 by Fred’s wife Audrey Friedman Marcus and co-author Rena Krasno has been published by Pacific View Press. You may order it now.

During Fred’s lifetime, Audrey learned about the diaries he had kept in German as a young refugee in Shanghai. Intrigued, she frequently suggested to Fred that he translate the diaries. However, he kept putting it off, and in 2002, he died without having done the translation.

What, Audrey wondered, could the diaries reveal about Fred’s life as a young man in a strange land? What were the enormous challenges and difficulties he and the other refugees had to face? How did he make enough money to survive? Who were his friends, his confidants? What was Jewish life like in Shanghai? What were his wartime experiences? What did he do after the war? Why did he remain in Shanghai until 1949, leaving just ahead of the Communist takeover? And, perhaps most puzzling, why did he resist translating the diaries?

It was indeed a great mystery, and one Audrey wanted very much to unravel. She felt that the diaries, which were written by Fred solely for himself, would be the key to his past, about which he had spoken only in general terms. Further, it would be one of the very few day-to-day records of refugee life in Shanghai during the 1940s and therefore a true historical record of those tumultuous times. She decided to seek a translator, someone with a broad knowledge of history in general and of the wartime years in particular, a person who was compassionate and able to envision the translation as both a contribution to family history and refugee Shanghai lore.

In January of 2003, Audrey attended a talk on Shanghai by Rena Krasno, a well known lecturer on the subject and author of Strangers Always: A Jewish Family in Wartime China. In the course of her lecture, Rena mentioned that she spoke six languages, among them…German. She also revealed that she had done simultaneous translations for a number of international organizations. What could be more perfect, thought Audrey; there before her was her translator.

Shortly after that, Audrey wrote to Rena about the diaries and about Fred, his early life and later accomplishments. The idea of reading and translating a young man’s diary that contained daily short notes on the events through which both of them had lived fascinated Rena. Surmounting the difficulties of Fred’s hard-to-read handwriting and the often faded ink in the diaries, Rena completed the task in a little over a year and a half. During that time, the idea was born to collaborate on a book based on Fred’s diaries.

Although a number of memoirs have been written about Shanghai, none reflect in such precise detail daily events or indicate how historic developments changed the lives of refugees in subtle and sometimes brutal ways. Audrey and Rena carried out rigorous research on the facts contained in the diaries, adding historic background and little known information regarding events Fred wrote about that influenced life in Shanghai directly or indirectly. Yet, while it is historically accurate, this book is not meant to be an academic tome. The pertinent references are cited in the bibliography, but there are no footnotes or endnotes to interrupt the flow of the story. Survival in Shanghai is a poignant coming of age story of a young man forced by Nazi horror and world war to overcome desperate circumstances.

Fred Marcus’s diaries were written solely for himself. With rare exceptions, he wrote without emotion about the events through which he lived, reporting in a matter-of-fact manner an account of each day’s happenings. Because these diaries were written at the time rather than many years after the events took place, they form a remarkable historic document. They also demonstrate the human capacity to adapt to difficult and unfamiliar circumstances. Through it all, Fred never lost his courage, never complained, and, in spite of increasing pressures, injustice, and cruelty, ploughed forward, attempting to maintain intellectual and moral standards.

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