Bernhard Kiewe escaped one of the worst tragedies in human history. He fled the horrors of the Holocaust.
He is also my dear, beloved grandfather.
My 89-year-old saba is originally from Konigsberg, which was historically in East Prussia but now is part of the Russian city of Kaliningrad. His mother, Ettel, knew exactly what was coming their way when the Nazis started taking over the community institutions and businesses of Konigsberg. So she sent young Bernhard and his two brothers on a ship to a whole new world in the Chinese city of Shanghai.
From 1933 to 1941, Shanghai opened its doors to European Jews fleeing persecution and war, creating an “open city for Jews” when much of the rest of the world was closed to refugees from Nazi Germany.
By 1944, Japanese forces, which controlled Shanghai throughout the war, moved all of the Jewish refugees to Hongkou, a ghetto in the northern section of the city. The ghetto there came to be known as “Little Vienna.”
While living there, my grandfather practiced Judaism while learning different customs to adapt to his new lifestyle and cultural surroundings.
He arrived in Shanghai in 1939 and immigrated to the United States nine years later. Once reaching American shores, he stayed with a sponsor, a family member who lived in Atlantic City.
While living in the New Jersey resort city, my saba met his wife (and my safta), Marlene, during a discussion night at Congregation Rodef Sholom. They left Atlantic City and came to Baltimore to raise their five boys.
Over the course of his life, my grandfather, who lives in Pikesville, worked many different jobs in the U.S. military and with the State of Israel Bonds organization.
This is the story of his journey.
Scott Kiewe is a Jmore editorial staff intern.