Werner Michael Blumenthal pointed to a movie theater on a street near his old home here and said today: "I used to go to the movies a lot, and dream."
It has been 34 years since he left Shanghai's Japanese-controlled ghetto where he had lived as a refugee from Nazi Germany. Two years later he left China for the United States. Today he came back as treasury secretary of his adopted country for a nostalgic look at his ghetto home and other landmarks of his Shanghai boyhood.
He walked through the lower floor of 59 Chusan Road through a dank, dark hallway into a tight space that once been a kitchen for the 30 people living in the small building, and out into a dingy courtyard.
There, pointing to the second-floor, two-room quarters he shared with his father and sister from 1943 to 1945, he said, "I feel it's been a long road from here."
It was a day of exhilaration, emotion and pride for Blumenthal, who has just completed important negotiations leading to new economic relations with China. For three hours this morning, accompanied by his wife Eileen, a few staff members, and a pool of three reporters, he walked five miles through the areas of Shanghai where he and his family lived after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 until they were interned in the predominatly Jewish ghetto in 1943. This afternoon, he returned to his ghetto home.
The old ghetto today blends into the surrounding run-down areas of Shanghai -- a slum, but no worse than those seen in Hong Kong, Manila or many other places. The housing is poor but the people look warmly dressed and reasonably well fed. There are no beggars to be seen in the old ghetto or anywhere in Shanghai.
Blumenthal had carefully selected an itinerary for personal reminiscense, including a look at the office building that housed the former American Consulate where he applied for a visa to the United States.
From 1945 through 1947 Blumenthal had worked and slept at the American Air Force base, although he was technically still a ghetto resident.
Blumenthal shopped to exchange small talk with workers and passers-by in his Shanghai dialect, which local residents say is acceptable. But when he asked a Chinese interpreter to see if teen-agers emerging from a school could great him in English, the word came back with some embarrassment: "Sorry, they are studying Russian."
Excitedly, as he walked, Blumenthal would say, "Look -- there's the bakery -- it's still there."
But one event above all illustrated his assertion that not too much had changed in Shanghai, except the reduction of disease. An elderly Chinese man went to a street-side spout to buy hot water for a penny per bottle. That's the way Blumenthal used to get hot water for his family as a youngster.
Blumenthal's pilgrimage led first to three residences he had in Shanghai before being moved into the ghetto in 1943. The first was the old Burlington Hotel, now a hostel, where his family stayed for five days.
The Blumenthals did better than some because they had arrived from Nazi Germany with about $250 in cash and few possessions -- such as cameras, which could be sold -- and they had husbanded their meager resources including the clothing brought from Germany.
Next came a two-room apartment at Number 50 Rue de Grouchy St., then a smaller place at 85 Maresca St. As he walked from one place to the other, Blumenthal said, "It was downhill all the way." Blumenthal's mother lived with the family then but was divorced from his father before they moved to the ghetto in 1943.
"You needed a sense of survival to make it," Blumenthal said of ghetto living. "So you lose your awe of some big shot sitting behind a big desk. It was like being in a prisoner of war camp."
He recalled that when he was a child running errands or delivering sausages, there were times that hundreds of bodies a day -- victims of cholera and other scourges -- had to be removed from the streets.Babies would die, and the families would simply put the bodies out in the streets.
"Given the poverty of the country, and the limited resources they have, they have done a trementdous job," he said. He noted that the stores seemed to be well-stocked.
Blumenthal interspersed his comments about present-day Shanghai with flashbacks to his boyhood memories of a Shanghai where there was opium smoking and gambling in the streets, and prostitution was rampant.
Blumenthal led the group to the Shanghai Jewish school, where he learned English.
Despite the name, the school essentially was based on the British pattern, although financed by Jewish families such as the Kadoories and Sassoons who had immigrated to China from Iraq before the turn of the century and had become wealthy merchants. There were few Jewish teachers, Blumenthal said. He remembered a Miss O'Connell, a Miss O'Dwyer, and a Miss Hekking, who was Dutch.
The brick school building is now a part of the Shanghai Education Board.
Across an alley from the school stands the former Sephardic synagogue, which was closed in 1949 when, Blumenthal said, the last Jews left Shanghai. Blumenthal was born in Germany of a Jewish father and a gentile mother, and he was baptized a Christian.
The old synagogue building, now the Shanghai High Education Board carried a sigh in large Chinese characters that was translated as saying: "Loyal to the course of education." All evidence of religious use has disappeared.
In the early 1940s, Blumenthal said, there were 18,000 internees -- 80 percent of them Jewish -- crammed into the four block by 12 block ghetto area.
He recalled that American planes near the end of the war accidentally bombed the ghetto while aiming for a nearby Papanese radio tower and killed at least 10 members of the ghetto and several hundred Chinese who lived in the same area. He helped organize a united that took the bodies to a morgue.
Blumenthal had returned to the ghetto once before, in 1973. But one of the reasons for leading a party including reporters back to the scene, he said, was for the benefit of perhaps 10,000 former ghetto residents, most now in the United States, who never had had their story fully recorded.
But suddenly, Blumenthal seemed to be emotionally spent.
"I think I've seen enough," he said, "I think I've seen all there is to see."