Spotlight: Shanghai exhibit honors history, legacy of Jewish refugees from Europe during WWII

By Tamara Treichel        

BEIJING, Oct.  9  (Xinhua) –  To many past and present, the Chinese city of Shanghai has been a center for business and trade, marked by its forward-thinking residents, international flair and openness to the world.

To 20,000 European Jewish refugees during World War II, it was a last refuge from Nazi persecution and anti-Semitism that would ultimately claim the lives of millions. In 1940, John (formerly Hans) Less was one of the German Jewish refugees who as a teenager ultimately found a fortuitous last refuge in Shanghai after a three-week overland journey.

Self-portrait of John (Hans) Less. The watercolor is signed "Hans Less" and dated "Febr. 1940."  He was 16 years old at this point, half a year before he left Berlin for Shanghai. Private collection of Dr. Steven Less.

Self-portrait of John (Hans) Less. The watercolor is signed “Hans Less” and dated “Febr. 1940.” He was 16 years old at this point, half a year before he left Berlin for Shanghai. Private collection of Dr. Steven Less.

Today, his son Dr. Steven Less has devoted himself to preserving his father’s legacy and that of the other Jewish refugees with a project, comprised of an ongoing exhibit called “Last Refuge: Shanghai” in the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum which shows artifacts that belonged to Less’ father.

The project, rather unusually, also included a field trip of German high school students from the International Comprehensive School Heidelberg to Shanghai in September on which Less also went along to confront his father’s past. The students will report on their field trip experiences at a public event in Heidelberg, Germany in December. Continue reading

Tamara Treichel: “And So Hell’s Probable”: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Pierre As Descent Narratives (Monograph/Ph.D. thesis)

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“I do deem it now a most meaning thing, that that old Greek, Prometheus, who made men, they say, should have been a blacksmith, and animated them with fire; for what’s made in fire must properly belong to fire; and so hell’s probable,” Captain Ahab muses in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (ch. 108). This is exactly what this work proposes: Hell is probable in Melville’s classic whaling novel (1851) as well as in his succeeding novel, Pierre (1852). The descent into hell, or katabasis, is an archetypal motif in tales worldwide. It therefore comes as no surprise that Melville, one of America’s greatest and most productive writers, made extensive use of this motif in his works. However, it is stunning that despite the cornucopia of studies on Melville, this motif has remained largely unrecognized by scholars. And this regarding an author who professed his faith in the Calvinistic “power of blackness” and lived in perpetual fear of hellfire! In a rhapsodic manner, this New England writer stitched together his gloom and doom descent narratives. As this work discloses, his muses were none other than Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton. Next to Melville’s sources for his descent narratives, this monograph also examines the figure of the descender, his purpose, his helpers and foes, and the destination of his underworld journey. Finally, it places Melville, a misunderstood maverick, and his apocalyptic descent narratives in the context of America’s nineteenth-century Transcendentalism, industrialism and capitalism, Jacksonianism, and the frontier.

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Release Date



Monograph (Ph.D. thesis)


ISBN 978-3-86821-081-1


Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier


• Ph.D. thesis winner of Dr. Gerhard Ott-Prize
• Ph.D. thesis nominated for Ruprecht-Karls-Prize for outstanding dissertations
• Received publication grant from University of Heidelberg’s Graduate Academy for excellent thesis