Jewish refugees in Hongkew had a talented theater group and their own orchestra made up of immigrants. There were also many Jewish refugees that provided first class entertainment to boost the moral in the ghetto. Variety shows and other entertainment on a larger scale were usually presented at a movie theater like the Eastern Theater that was available for rent after 6:00 p.m. (1). Performances like “Die Fledermaus” (2), “Three Penny Opera”, “Merry Widow”, and “Countess Maritza”, presented by top notch artists will always be remembered. A few Jewish composers, like Siegfried Sonnenschein composed their own musicals while living in the Shanghai Ghetto (3). There are also many good and unforgettable memories of names like Herbert Zemik (4), Lilly Flobr, Rosl Albach Gersti, Rajah Somina, Gretal Kleiner, Jenny Rausnitz, Gerhard Gottschalk, and the Friedmanns. And the beautiful music and choirs can also not be forgotten including the talented Ilse Marcuse, Sabine Rapp, Irene Margolinski, Fritz Melchior and his wife Ursula Perthoefter (5), and many more. The director of the opera in the Frenchtown was Schoenbach. Many Shanghai refugees visited this new part of the city before the war, designed in a European style with side-walk cafes.

Siegfried Sonnenschein
Ralph Harpuder

“I thank the Rickshaw Website that pays tribute to the relatively little-know Artists who with their talents brought to their lives in Shanghai a little of the life they had left behind in their respective European countries”. Richard Sonnenschein.

On the 15th of January, 2004 yours truly received an email from Richard Sonnenschein, the son of the composer Siegfried Sonnenschein, thanking me for having included his father in the article “European Jewish Artist Society (EJAS), which he read on the Shanghailander‘s Rickshaw Website.

Around August, 2004 Kathleen Echterhoff a vocalist living in Dresden, was asked by the Jewish Community of that city to give a concert honoring Jewish artists that left their mark in Dresden before WWII.  In order to prepare herself for the concert, and to find the respective music from each of the artists, she began her research on the Internet. It was serendipity that Ms. Echterhoff found the Rickshaw Website with the article about EJAS that mentioned Siegfried Sonnenschein.

Not much later, I received an email from Ms. Echterhoff requesting my help in finding some sheet music composed by Sonnenschein. I responded by telling her to contact the son of the composer, Richard Sonnenschein, directly for more information. As a result, a dialogue by email evolved with Mr. Sonnenschein in New York, and Ms. Heike Liebsch, curator at the Center for Jewish History and Culture in Dresden, who had learned from Ms. Echterhoff the whereabouts of the composer‘s son. In one of Ms. Liebsch‘s emails to Mr. Sonnenschein she wrote that from 1925 to 1938, the Jewish Community in Dresden published a newsletter that mentioned his father. Excerpts from the newsletters are shown in figure one.

A letter from Ms. Liebsch to yours truly dated March, 2005 shown in figure two, told about the end of the exhibit and contained a catalogue with brief biographies of each of the artists honored at the exhibition. The cover of the catalogue is shown in figure three.

A page inside the catalogue that tells in chronological order the life of the composer is shown in figure four.

Siegfried Sonnenschein was born in 1909 in Dresden, Germany to Susie and Leo Sonnenschein. Siegfried who was the third child had a very comfortable and happy youth. His early musical talent led him to study at the Music Conservatory, after which he later became known as a hit music composer.

In 1932, the 23 year old Sonnenschein composed a piece of music called “Auf der Terrasse vom Romanischen Café “, that was recorded by numerous record companies. His public career, however, faded when in 1933 the Nazis came into power.

He later became part of a group of musicians that had many engagements within the Jewish Community. A Juedische Tanzkapelle (Jewish dance band), later called “Tanzkapelle Sonnenschein” was founded afterwards in 1936.

Thanks to a sympathetic member of the infamous NSDAP, an organization that supported Hitler’s National Socialism during the Third Reich, Sonnenschein in 1939 was warned that he may be arrested on account of being Jewish. As a result, he fled to Shanghai using the last bit of savings from his father.

He continued to compose songs and operettas while living in the Shanghai Jewish Ghetto. His most popular operetta, “Sag, bist du mir gut “, was performed in April of 1946 at the Eastern Theater in Hongkew. An advertisement of the operetta which appeared in a local Jewish newspaper is shown in figure five. His son, Richard, wrote in August, 2004 a letter addressed to me, “I believe that my father did the best work when he was in Shanghai in


Sonnenschein gave several piano recitals during the ghetto years as shown in figure six and figure seven. He also was the musical director for various variety shows, and accompanied singers on the piano, illustrated in figure eight and figure nine.

A special evening event honoring his music and compositions is shown on a program in figure 10.

Sonnenschein left Shanghai in 1947, and made his new home in San Francisco where he made his living accompanying singers on the piano in bars and night clubs. His struggle with neuralgia kept him from applying his talent in composing more music.

In 1952 he fell in love with a 16 year old singer who later became his wife. His son, Richard and a twin were born a year later in San Francisco.

Siegfried Sonnenschein passed away from pneumonia in 1980. His son, Richard, was at the time of his father‘s death a singer for the Israel National Opera. He currently resides in New York