While pouring the “Liquid Tide” or other leading detergent into our washing machine, have we ever thought back how our parents managed to wash their clothes during those difficult days in Shanghai?

A close friend of mine, Andreas Heinsius, recently rediscovered in an old attaché case containing Shanghai memorabilia, an original bar of soap dating back to the war years, the type his parents used to wash their clothes. The soap by the name of “Sunlight”-  illustrated in figure one, contained lye and other caustic chemicals, and was therefore only used for washing clothes. It was available at either refugee operated provision stores or at a front entrance to a lane where hot water was sold.

Many of the Shanghailanders residing in the Hongkew Ghetto had to share a faucet of cold water with at least two or three other parties in the building. On my return visit to Shanghai, I pointed to the cold water faucets located three narrow staircases below our flat. See (Figure two) 

There were a number of stores in existence that carried better brands of soap suitable for personal hygiene, the only question was, could we afford it? One such store by the name of “Engel & Weiss”,  located inside the popular 343 Lane in the heart of Hongkew, carried many varieties of soap and cosmetics. (Figure three). 

Familiar to many Shanghailanders were the soaps produced by the Vienna Soap Company located at 1166 Broadway East. The plant was owned and operated by Heinz Parnes, a Jewish refugee from Vienna.

In spite of the hardships and the many inconveniences endured by our parents, everyone will today agree that most, if not all, of the refugees that were living in the ghetto practiced their hygiene by improvising in the best way possible, and were always dressed in clean outer garments.