Michael Blumenthal was 13 when his family fled Berlin and the Nazis in 1939, boarding the Japanese passenger liner Haruna Maru to sail to Shanghai - the only city that would admit Jews without visas. Several prominent Jewish families were already settled in the city, and when the Blumenthals arrived a month later, the Jewish community already numbered in the thousands. Nine years later, the family left for the United States, where they settled as refugees. Blumenthal would go on to become Treasury secretary in the administration of Jimmy Carter. But he always remembers how hard life was as a teenager in Shanghai, and how the city changed when the Japanese took control of the foreign enclaves in 1941. When he was young, he would visit a small cafe near his home. "It was called Wiener Stube, which means Vienna's small room in German. There were seven chairs and I often sat there for three hours in the afternoon," Blumenthal, now 89, said during a visit to the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum recently\n. "Most of the time there was war and life was very hard. Shanghai people suffered a lot and we [refugees] were suffering too," Blumenthal said. "But in the end, we and local people lived peacefully as friends and that is a good memory for me." The museum is among the most significant Jewish historical structures still standing in the city. It comprises three parts - the former site of the Ohel Moshe Synagogue, which dates to the early 20th century, and two exhibition halls, displaying photos, short films and other items representing refugees' life. The museum changed hands several times after the war, and was reopened in 2007 after the Hongkou district government allocated funds to renovate the synagogue in line with its original design. In his memoir, Blumenthal wrote that Jewish émigrés expected life in Shanghai to be challenging but they had few other options. His parents tried to earn what little money they could trading petty items. "Shanghai was the only place where we could seek refuge," Blumenthal said at the museum. "Actually many who didn't escape [from Europe] were killed." The Battle of Shanghai occurred two years before his family arrived, and the outcome gave Japan control over the Chinese-administered parts of the city, while the International Settlement and the French Concession remained free. Blumenthal said life was chaotic, jobs were scarce and there were epidemics of tropical diseases in the difficult climate. Chen Jian, curator of the museum, said Shanghai accepted refugees so freely because of a "power vacuum" at the time. "Britain and France had concessions in Shanghai, but these countries didn't issue visas for people coming to Shanghai," Chen said. In 1943, pushed by their German allies, the city's Japanese military authority drove Jewish refugees to a "stateless- refugee-defined ghetto" in Hongkou district, where the museum is located. According to Chen, about 100,000 local residents and 25,000 Jewish people lived in the ghetto. Blumenthal said the neighbourhood resembled an Austrian or German city, with German or English schools, kindergartens, sport clubs, a hospital and a synagogue. All the shop signs were in German. "We learned to speak Chinese, but not enough. Chinese people learned to speak English or German. So we could speak to each other," he said. Blumenthal remembers the happy times as well. His friends organised soccer games, put on plays and musical performances, and opened libraries. Elderly people taught younger people different languages and he himself learned Spanish and Esperanto. But not many of his friends from those days are still alive. Life grew more challenging during the final months of the war with the Japanese occupying the ghetto, and Americans responded by targeting the area with bombing runs. "Over here across the street [from the museum] there was a Japanese radio station and American planes tried to hit it," Blumenthal said. "They destroyed it, but also dropped bombs on the street, killing quite a few Chinese people and 37 of our people." Blumenthal has returned to Shanghai eight times since he left in 1948, and each time the changes surprise him. He said some of the hardships he faced in Shanghai affected him deeply later in life. He witnessed many dangers first-hand. "You had to give money to each policeman and to get every piece of paper issued by the government. Nothing worked without bribes," Blumenthal said. This experience motivated him to fight corruption in the US, he said. In his book, From Exile to Washington, a Memoir of Leadership in the Twentieth Century , Blumenthal wrote that his time in Shanghai informed his political beliefs and made him care about public affairs. Witnessing such pervasive poverty ignited his interest in social sciences, especially economics, and convinced him to become a social liberalist. The translation of Blumenthal's book from English into Chinese is almost complete and Chen said the museum was in contact with the publisher and publishing authorities to have it printed on the mainland.