Roughly a dozen survivors of a lesser-known chapter of World War II history -- the Shanghai Ghetto -- were recognized and honored Thursday in Rosemont.
The event, held at the Hyatt Regency and organized by the Lincolnshire-based Florence and Laurence Spungen Family Foundation, included dinner and a keynote speech. It brought smiles to the faces of the survivors who attended.
"It's always interesting for us to get together and talk -- there are not too many of us left," said Gerry Jacoby, a Lincolnshire resident who was among the 15,000 to 20,000 Jewish people who fled Europe for Shanghai, China, in the late 1930s. Jacoby lived in Shanghai with his family, including his older brother, Kurt, who was also at Thursday's event.
The Jacobys left Berlin in early November 1938, and spent about a month on a crowded ship to get to Shanghai, one of the few places Jewish people could go to at the time without a visa or passport.
Gerry Jacoby said he hopes events like Thursday's help spread the word about the suffering, courage and community that existed in the cramped and unsanitary living quarters of the Shanghai Ghetto.
"Not enough people know about it, and there were so many people there," he said.
Historian Steve Hochstadt, who teaches at Illinois College in Jacksonville and released a book of interviews with Shanghai Ghetto survivors, delivered the evening's speech.
"It's an important part of the whole story of the war," he said before his talk began. "I think the reason why there haven't been more memoirs written about it is that survivors have felt a bit awkward because they didn't experience life in the concentration camps like so many did."
Thursday's dinner was the first of two events organized for Shanghai Ghetto survivors. On Friday, the group will appear at the Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie for tours and lectures.
Danny Spungen, the lead organizer of the events for his family's foundation, said bringing the survivors together this week was a rewarding experience.
"They've gone unrecognized up until now," he said. "I'm so happy to see them together here. What this shows is that the war was a breakdown in humanity that occurred all over the globe, not just on the European stage."