Mary, the daughter of Jakob and Jenny Steinhauser, was born only a few months after Germany's annexation of Austria in March 1938. The Nazis in Austria immediately began persecuting and brutalizing Austria's Jewish citizens. Mr. Steinhauser lost his job as a accountant with a Jewish-owned textiles firm when it was confiscated by the Nazis. Mary's parents began searching for a way to leave Austria, but few countries granted entry permits to Jews.
Through word-of-mouth, the Steinhausers heard that the port city of Shanghai, China, was allowing Jews to enter. Thousands of refugees attempted to book passage on ships going there. Mary's father offered his accounting services free of charge to the director of a shipping company. The director eventually helped him to get passage for the family. Mary and her parents set sail for China in April 1939. Mary had her first birthday on the ship.
Shanghai, a metropolis of over four million inhabitants, was China's largest port. Five refugee camps were set up to house and feed the thousands of Jews who had fled Europe. Some of the refugees were able to support themselves by finding work in the city.
Under German pressure, the Japanese occupiers of Shanghai forced the Jews into a crowded, sealed-off ghetto in February 1943, when Mary was four. Economic restrictions caused extreme hardship and ghetto residents often sold their clothes to buy food. Even so, educational, social, religious and cultural activities were still maintained. Mary began school and had many friends including Chinese children.
Mary and her family lived in a little three-room hut with other families. Electricity was restricted and food was difficult to obtain. The hard-pressed ghetto residents worried that the Japanese would carry out Germany's murderous policies toward the Jews. But with Japan' defeat, these fears evaporated.
The ghetto was opened with the end of the war in September 1945. The refugees danced in the streets for joy. Mary was seven years old.