A Day at the Races

Shanghai’s Nazis actually launched this attack on Shanghai’s Jews on October 25, 1941


Thomas and Lin were standing on the crowded racecourse in the center of Shanghai when paper leaflets twirled down from the sky like a storm of white leaves. Park Hotel and Racecourse Sepia

“What is this?” Lin plucked one from the air. It was October twenty-fifth, 1941, a bright, windy Saturday, and he was on one of his secret visits to Shanghai, the third since he had fled to Hong Kong. The day was bright and windy, and as Thomas had no performance, and the fall race meeting was on, they went.

Papers fluttered around them as they both cringed from the hideous drawing of a long-nosed Jew, followed by line after line of anti-Jewish vitriol in English and Chinese. “Filthy——conniving——thieving—— must be punished——”

“Nazis,” said Thomas disgustedly. Representatives of the new German regime had been pouring into Shanghai throughout ‘40 and ‘41. “Where are they, in a plane?”

“No. Look.” Lin pointed north, to the newly built, twenty-four-story Park Hotel, the tallest building in Shanghai. The leaflets were being thrown out of the tower, from which the wind swept them out and across the track.

“Chinese owners,” said Thomas of the hotel. “It’s the only place that will take them.” Ever since Luftwaffe bombers flew over England, the Nazis arriving in Shanghai had found all British–owned and –affiliated hotels closed to them. It had been rumored around town for months that the top tiers of Shanghai’s Nazi community had therefore located their brain trust on the top floors of the Chinese-owned Park.

But Lin was already striding in that direction, pushing through the crowd. The north shoulder of the track paralleled the curve of Nanjing Road outside the grounds, and he marched straight across it, heedless of the muddy clods that had been churned up by the horses hooves in the last race, and the shouts of the grooms and spectators urging him to get off the track. Thomas trotted behind, also shouting his name, and got no response. Lin did not slow down until he reached the front of the Park, where the three massive vertical panels of its façade rose to the wide, narrow tower that topped the building. He strode up the steps past a tangle of rickshaw coolies who were exclaiming angrily over the pamphlets.

Thomas marched in behind him. They were in the International Settlement, but this being a Chinese-owned place, colored folks, like Nazis, were allowed to enter.

At the hotel desk, Lin castigated the manager in machine-gun-fire Shanghainese, until he quailed in fear. Thomas watched Lin snatch up a telegram form, write a furious message, and hand it to the cable clerk behind the counter. Then he turned and led Thomas across the carpeted lobby to a pair of club chairs.

“What do we do now?” said Thomas.

“Wait.” Lin Ming called a waiter over and ordered a pot of tea. “I just cabled to Kung. When he hears about this, he will stop whatever he is doing.” Lin shot a glance to the black telephone on the check-in counter. “It won’t take long. I predict we will be back in time for the sixth race.”

Thomas lifted a skeptical brow. “That fast.”

Lin leaned forward. “His secretary, Wu Peichang, is a snob who brags constantly about earning his Ph.D. in England. Typical of his type, he is a man of habit, which is why I know he is at his desk now, and will be reading this cable within ten minutes. No matter what the boss is doing right now, he is about to be interrupted. Drink your tea.” Lin waved at the pot.

He looked calm as he picked up his own cup, so Thomas followed suit. Guests ebbed in and out, mostly Europeans, men in hats, women in fox-furs and squared shoulders. He kept thinking of the leaflets, with a sickening drop in his stomach. “What if people in Shanghai are convinced by that junk?”

“They won’t be,” Lin said shortly. “We at least can see to that.”

“Any news on Margit’s cousin?” Thomas said. It had been so long that he had only a tenuous thread of hope left, but when he saw Lin Ming, he always remembered to ask.

Lin shook his head and re-filled their cups. “Consul Ho’s office has never been able to find her.”

“Margit thinks she might have gone into hiding with a new identity. She looks Aryan, so does her husband.”

“Maybe that is it. Or maybe she has left Vienna.”

Thomas drank to push down the other possibility that rose in his throat. Or maybe she is already dead.

The phone rang shrilly on the counter.

“That’s it,” said Lin, setting his cup down.

They watched as the manager answered, and then keened and wailed and begged so abjectly that it seemed to Thomas, who understood not a word, that he was about to sag into a puddle on the floor. The instant his trembling hand set the phone back in its cradle, he whirled around to shout at his employees, who fanned out to the elevators.

“Shouldn’t be long,” said Lin.

And a few minutes later, the elevator bumped to the lobby level, its ornate cage-front opening with a rattle of metal, and a gaggle of red-faced, hard-drinking Germans were pushed out by a wedge of loud-chattering ‘room boys’, floor attendants in white tunics. One of the Germans tried to veer off toward the stairs, to sneak back up, but no less than four room boys surrounded him and forced him back to the others, being shoved out the door.

Lin and Thomas jumped up to follow, both grinning like fools. The Germans would come back, and everyone knew it, since they had paid handsomely for their tower rooms, but they had been humiliated, and the pamphlets stopped——for now. Thomas could not stop smiling to see them being shouted away by the room boys. Out on the street in front of them, the rickshaw coolies who had been so angered by the hateful flurry of leaflets cheered and clapped wildly at the sight, and then picked up their traces and trotted away, leaving the curb empty.

Because not one of them would carry a German.