Above the Drowning Sea: Saving the Jews of Vienna

An exclusive premiere screening of Above the Drowning Sea took part on March 8 as part of the Pureland Series. A 90-minute documentary, it tells the story of the dramatic escape of Jews from Nazi-controlled Austria to Shanghai on the eve of the Second World War.

As Hitler’s forces sought to expel the Jews from Europe, few countries welcomed the refugees, who were desperately looking for an escape from the coming Holocaust. Then a door opened in Shanghai, on the east coast of far-away China, an “open city” itself in chaos from foreign invasion and civil war. But to get there out of Nazi Europe required a “golden” document: a Chinese visa.

Above the Drowning Sea recounts the courageous intervention of Ho Feng-Shan, the Chinese Consul-General in Vienna, who defied his own government and braved the Gestapo to issue visas to the refugees.

In the film, Jewish refugees and the Chinese residents of Shanghai, who helped them survive in China, tell of their experiences, terrors and deprivations as well as the remarkable friendships forged across cultures – friendships that survive to this day.

The film is narrated by Julianna Margulies, star of The Good Wife, and features that show’s former executive producer Keith Eisner as he retraces the footsteps of his father, who was one of the Vienna Jews who fled to Shanghai.

The film was written and directed by René Balcer, executive producer of the iconic television series Law & Order, and renowned Italian-Canadian documentary filmmaker Nicola Zavaglia.

Shot in six countries over four continents, Above the Drowning Sea is an inspiring emotional journey across time and around the world.

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