Lesson Plan

Shanghai Ghetto

Walk students through the challenges of obtaining U.S. visas and the horrible conditions many faced in seeking refuge in Shanghai.

View All Lessons
The Holocaust

Enduring Understanding

Jews fleeing Nazi persecution created a large refugee problem. Challenges in getting visas to the U.S. and other countries left people with very few options.

Essential Questions

  • 1What challenges did Jews face when trying to flee persecution?
  • 2Were other countries welcoming to the influx of refugees?


10 Min

Explain to students that as persecution for Jewish people in Nazi occupied territories worsened, more and more people were seeking refuge in other countries. Many countries, including the United States, had a long waiting list to obtain visas.

Pull up this checklist from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Americans and the Holocaust virtual exhibition. Examine one or two of the steps in greater detail.
Up until August 1939, no visas were required to enter Shanghai.


10 Min

Read the following excerpt from a diary entry about entrance to Shanghai:

“We have to go to Shanghai. Terrible letters come from there. One runs again to see if our names are on the list to leave. Before, when one saw his name on the list, one was happy. Today…one cries.”
-Rose Shoshana Kahan diary entry, 1941

Ask students why they think people continued to seek refuge in Shanghai despite hearing such terrible things from there? What does that say about the desperation people had to leave Europe?


30 Min
Teacher's Note
If students do not know about Pearl Harbor, they can click on it within the article and it will take them to a page telling them more about it.

In partners or individually, have students read through this article by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum about Polish Jewish Refugees in the Shanghai Ghetto and answers the questions below.

  1. What were conditions like for the refugees that ended up in Shanghai?
  2. How did things change after the attack on Pearl Harbor?
  3. How did the Jewish refugees maintain a sense or ordinary life?

Come together as a class to go over their answers.

Wisconsin Academic Standards

This lessons meets the following Academic Standards required by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Teacher Primer

Know Before You Go

Before you teach, use our teacher primer to freshen up on your content knowledge.