Above the Drowning Sea

On the weekend I went to Jewish Film Festival in Hong Kong. We watched a movie called 'Above the Drowing Sea' directed by Rene Balcer and Nicola Zavaglia. Rene and his wife Carolyn was also present for Q&A after the movie.
Shanghainese and Jewish girls at the time WWII
Above the Drowing Sea is a documentary about Jewish refugees from Nazi Vienna (Austria) who, at a time when all doors were closed to them, found sanctuary in Shanghai, thanks to the intervention of Chinese diplomat Ho Feng Shan who as Chinese consul in Vienna defied the Nazis and his own government by issuing travel visas to the desperate refugees. The film tells the story from the point of view of the refugees and the Chinese people who sheltered them.


I found the movie very moving, telling story of refugees almost 80 years ago in connection to refugee crisis, which we have nowadays. It is a story of human connection, love and care, despite cultural and racial differences. It is about what it means to be human. Although Chinese people were facing tantamount difficulties and struggles in Shanghai at the time of war (Japanese occupation, civil war), many of them gave a hand of support to Jewish community.

'We are all descendants of refugees', - said Rene, - 'a thousand or few hundred years ago our ancestors came to the places where we live now and settled. They also had neighbours, which accepted them and let them live.' Yet we are still mistreating others when they ask for the refuge. A new Bloomberg Politics poll found that 53% of Americans don’t want to accept any Syrian refugees at all; 11% more would accept only Christian refugees from Syria. And we hardly learned this from history: in 1938, the polling firm Roper found that 67% opposed “German, Austrian and other political refugees” coming to the U.S.

this scene represents Hong Kong: local traders on small boats trying to sell food and sweets to refugees on the ship
After the movie I asked Rene's wife, Carolyne, who is Shanghainese, what, in her opinion, does make Chinese people different and so acceptive to others. She said it is due to absence of strong religion that people are more open to others. And she has a point. Religion is a double-edge sword - it can give us a sense of purpose, direction, guidance to do good, as well as justify actions, which I rather call inhumane and brutal. Because of religious believes of Chinese diplomat Ho - he saved lives of thousands of Jewish refugees by issuing visas despite Nazi threat and that many governments closed its doors. Yet because of religious beliefs of many people today, we oppose the acceptance of others - be it Muslim refugees, LGBTQI or people of another race.

I believe it is important to be aware of that divisive nature of the religion, which  separates 'us' and 'them' and always remember: there is no 'them' - there is only 'us'. 

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