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Holocaust survivor talks about life in Chinese internment camp

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Doris Fogel, Beliefs 041517


It was 1939 when Doris Fogel, who was born in 1934 in Berlin, began her eight years of living in a Chinese internment camp.

Fogel, of Northbrook, Illinois, was the keynote speaker Sunday at the annual Yom Hashoah Holocaust remembrance at Temple Emanuel, Davenport.

The solemn evening included readings, prayers, music and a shofar (a musical horn made from a ram’s horn) blast by George Rothbardt of Temple Emanuel.

“We gather together to honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and those who helped the victims, and tell the story of the Holocaust in such a way as to encourage resistance to any future holocaust,” said Rabbi Henry Jay Karp of Temple Emanuel. “Ours is a very special observance. It is one of the few interfaith services in the country.” Another purpose of the observance is “to remind us how dark the human soul can turn,” he said.

Fogel’s talk echoed his words. She was with her family on Kristallnacht, when Jewish businesses and synagogues were destroyed in Germany and Austria. They were unable to obtain papers to enter the United States, so in 1939 they fled to Japanese-occupied Shanghai, China, where no entry visa or affidavit was necessary.

They were among the 20,000 Jews who spent the next eight years in the Hongkew Ghetto. There was no running water, and the conditions were filthy. “I thought my bed would walk out by itself because it was so infested with bedbugs,” she said.

During her time in Shanghai, she attended a Jewish school built by Jewish philanthropist Horace Kadoorie. “That’s where I learned to speak English and French,” said Fogel.

The students did not have textbooks, but learned with notebooks their parents made for them, said Fogel, who has donated every bit of memorabilia except her citizenship papers to the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Chicago.

She says it’s important that people hear the stories of Holocaust survivors from the survivors themselves. “This is the last generation to hear it first-hand,” she said. “After that, it’s going to be in books.”

“Let me tell you how to define a Holocaust survivor,” she said. “It’s anyone who had to leave their home country because of Hitler.”

After the war, a resident of Peoria, Illinois, sponsored the family to come to the United States. Fogel was 13 and weighed 65 pounds when she finally came to America.

Fogel has spoken about her experience around the country and has been on the Speakers' Bureau of the Jewish Federations of North America. She often speaks at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Chicago. In 2014, Fogel was the featured speaker at the Illinois Holocaust Commemoration in Springfield.

“I have volunteered more hours than anyone you know,” she said. “I do not do this for the money.”

She is the former executive director of the Jewish Federation in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


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Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.

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