"This true family saga of war and betrayal is both epic and intimate, pulsing with unforgettable characters caught in the tumult of history. Impossible to put down, it is deeply moving, answering heartbreak with healing through the sheer power of storytelling. What more can be asked of a book?"
Author of Night in Shanghai, Lost in Translation and The Last Chinese Chef
Escaping the Nazis for Shanghai
After years of research, brothers George and Charles Kolber detail their family’s escape to Shanghai in their book Thrown Upon The World. In it they describe their family’s flight from the Nazis in 1938, ending up in the only place in the world available to Jews without a visa: Shanghai. To get there, wife Eva and daughter Lilly took a 7,600-mile rail route encountering Nazi shakedowns and Japanese imprisonment before a miraculous safe arrival seven weeks later. Meanwhile, father Josef and twin sons Walter and Dolfie took a twenty-one-day voyage by ocean liner from Trieste. Hiding money and valuables in crates of sewing machines (which they needed to start their life anew).
At about the same time, one of China’s more illustrious and politically powerful families, the Chens, found their own lives upended by the Japanese invasion of China. They too would be forced to flee to Shanghai.
In Shanghai, children from each of these two families would meet: Walter Kolber, a handsome, impetuous, and talented violinist, and the beautiful and refined Chao Chen, a gifted pianist. They encountered each other by chance at the Shanghai Music Conservatory. Assigned to perform together, their romance blossomed, even though such interracial romances were forbidden. Unfortunately, due to Chao Chen’s unexpected pregnancy, they found themselves obligated to marry. Later, each would be disowned by their old-fashioned and unaccepting families.
After the war ended, Walter and Chao Chen sought to create a life away from the ghetto of Shanghai and were relocated into a displaced persons (DP) camp near Vienna. Life in the camp was especially difficult for Chao Chen because of cultural differences, her Asian appearance and inability to speak German. Then under the auspices of the 1948 Displaced Persons Act, Walter arranged for his family to move to the United States. He took his three sons but left his wife behind since she was pregnant with a fourth child, while promising that he’d later send for her and their newborn.
This story is both a psychological study of families and individuals under continuous threats and is a portrait of one of the most turbulent times in twentieth-century history. Rich in atmosphere, the story is set against the backdrop of significant historic events as refracted through the lives of its protagonists, including the Rape of Nanking, Kristallnacht, Pearl Harbor, and Hiroshima. This story was written by George and Charles Kolber, in memory of their mother, Chao Chen. This Archway Publication is available on Amazon and other outlets.
Watch Escape to Shanghai (above) to dive a little deeper into this extraordinary journey.
George Kolber (left) and Charles Kolber (right) at the Thrown upon the World launch.
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“Thrown Upon the World tells a bitter truth that vividly depicts the damage inflicted on those forced into exile. The harshest truth of all is that not all who survived were ennobled by their suffering. Some were destroyed by it, and some destroyed others because of it.”
—Michael Berenbaum who is the Professor of Jewish Studies at the American Jewish University, authored 18 books including The World Must Know and A Promise to Remember.