Safety From the Storm is an historically based play about a little known but fascinating part of world history – the Jewish ghetto in Shanghai during the Second World War, where thousands of refugees arrived, penniless and destitute, and attempted to forge a new life.
During the early 1900s, Japan began making diplomatic trips to countries they had previously had little to no contact with. One of these trips was to Russia, where they encountered a racist tract called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Being unfamiliar with the phenomenon of Jewish persecution, at least one diplomat took this tract to heart, but his response was a surprising one: if Jews controlled the economics of the world, he thought, and Japan has no Jews, then Japan is missing out on this economic control. But this tract also made mention of the dangers of Jews. ‘So we don’t want them in Japan,’ he thought. ‘But if they were in Japanese-occupied China, they would be close enough that we would get the benefit of their presence, but not so close as to harm us. Like the exotic Fugu fish, which is poisonous unless prepared properly’. So a memo was circulated, and the legend of The Fugu Plan was born. How far the memo went and whether it was ever taken seriously is a matter of much scholarly debate, but the fact is that during the Second World War, when people began to flee Europe, one of the only places still providing visas was Japan.
And it is fact that during the Second World War, a Japanese consulate to Lithuania continued to write visas for Jewish refugees, long after the war was official, long after Japan was allied with Germany. “I kept expecting someone to notice,” he said, “but no one ever did.” This man wrote thousands of visas. During the later years of the war he was recalled to Japan, and he began to write as many visas as he could. He worked 24 hours a day writing visas for three days. On the day that his train was due to leave, he wrote visas and threw them out the window of his car. At the last minute he took blank pieces of paper and signed them, hoping it would be enough, tossing the papers out the window of the train to the waiting crowds of Polish and Lithuanian refugees, desperate for any chance to escape.
Safety From the Storm takes this incredible moment in history and turns it into something small, close, and personal. It is the story of David, a Lithuanian teenager, and his mother, Ruth, who get one of these prized visas and leave everything they have known for a life of uncertainty and destitution. It is at its heart a love story, a story of survival, a story of what you can experience and keep on living. Heavily researched, and coloured with real stories told to me by a refugee who experienced the Shanghai ghetto first hand, it is a vast, epic, tiny story. Punctuated with three original songs in the style of the time, Safety From the Storm is looking for a home. If you’re interested, please send me a message.