Passage from Berlin to Shanghai

Fred Marcus

Fred Marcus

With only a few personal belongings, some family heirlooms, and ten marks each in cash in their pockets (approximately $4.00 at the time), Fred and Semmy leave Berlin on March 28, 1938. They are not permitted to take more money with them. They pass through Munich on their way to Genoa, where they board a ship bound for China on March 29.

For 14-year-old Fred, the one-month long voyage via the exotic ports of Aden, Bombay, Colombo, Singapore and Manila seems like a great adventure that outshines the uncertainty of what is to come once they reach Shanghai.

Fred and Semmy Marcus’ route from Berlin to Shanghai, March 28 – April 25, 1939


Fred Marcus: From Munich, we took the train across the Alps to Genoa, and then began a 29-day cruise or 25-day, I forget, through—across the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal. What a great adventure for a 14-year-old kid. I barely saw my dad all day long, he was busy with his friends, and I was busy looking at the ship. And I made friends with some of the crew. And what a great adventure it was to have this cruise into countries and oceans, the Indian Ocean, go down to Singapore, to Manila, for the first time in your life, and you’re 14 years old.

“I barely saw my dad all day long, he was busy with his friends, and I was busy looking at the ship.”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 9214

Excerpt from Fred’s unpublished autobiography

After one night in Munich, we boarded the express train across the Brenner Pass, down through Italy, to Genoa. I was very surprised that I couldn’t read any of the signs there, even the one for “Exit” from the railroad station.

In Genoa, the hotel must have been paid for, because we left Germany with ten marks apiece in cash in our pockets, the equivalent of about US $2.50 [sic]. (One could take only that much currency out of the country. The only thing we could do was prepay board money, as it was called, to be spent on board the ship for incidental expenses.)

Dad and I carried German passports that were stamped with a large “J” for Jew. These passports expired 30 days from the date we left Germany. This meant that from that time on, we became stateless refugees who had no protection or rights.

The next day, we were taken down to the ship and boarded the very elegant Conte Biancamano for a 29-day voyage from Genoa, Italy, to Shanghai, China. […]

The ship was most luxurious, and although we traveled in third class, the food was wonderful. There were three forks and three knives, two spoons, and a water glass set beside two wine glasses. I remember a lot of card playing aboard the ship and a few shore excursions, notably in Colombo and Singapore, where hawkers traded us a pineapple or a tropical pith helmet (which I aspired to acquire) in exchange for small personal items.

The strangest thing about the ship was that, during it, I never gave any real thought to what was in store for us. We had left Genoa on March 29, 1939, and arrived at Shanghai pier on April 25, 1939.

Fred Marcus’ Timeline

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