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Shanghai Volunteer Corps badge issued to a Jewish refugee in Shanghai

Object | Accession Number: 1989.243.273

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    Shanghai Volunteer Corps badge issued to a Jewish refugee in Shanghai

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    Brief Narrative
    Badge issued to Ernst (Ernest) Heppner, in late 1940 or 1941, as a member of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps (SVC). Founded in 1854, the SVC was under the command of British officers and reinforced the International Settlement’s municipal police. He became a driver for the transport company. Even though he had no prior driving experience, Ernst passed his test at the end of 1940. Ernst was living in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), with his parents, Isidor and Hilda, his half-sister, Else, and near his half-brother, Heinz. Following the Kristallnacht program in November 1938, and Heinz’s subsequent arrest, the family began looking at emigration options. Eighteen-year-old Ernst and his mother secured passage on a ship to Shanghai, China, where they arrived in March 1939. Ernst soon got a job working for a toy store branch located inside a bookstore, where he began to learn reading English. He also joined an established British Boy Scout troop, the Thirteenth Rovers, as well as the SVC. In May 1943, the Japanese occupation authorities forced the stateless refugees into a ghetto in Hongkew. In April 1945, Ernst married Illo Koratkowski, an immigrant from Berlin. The following month, Germany surrendered to the Allies; Japan surrendered in August. Ernst and Illo were able to get civilian jobs with the American Army, and moved to Nanking (now, Nanjing) in 1946. The following year, Ernst, Illo, his mother, and his father-in-law immigrated to the United States. The couple settled in New York City, where their daughter was born. Ernst didn’t learn the fates of his family until after the war. Heinz and his family immigrated to England in 1939, but both Isidor and Else were killed in the Holocaust.
    issue:  1940-1941
    received: Shanghai (China)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Ernest G. Heppner
    front, center, molded, metal : SVC [Shanghai Volunteer Corps]
    front, ring, embossed : • TRANSPORT • COMPANY •
    front, ribbon, embossed : 1932
    Subject: Ernest G. Heppner
    Issuer: Shanghai Volunteer Corps
    Ernst Günther Heppner (later, Ernest Guenter,1921-2004) was born in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), to Isidor (1878-c.1942) and Hilda (nee Liffmann, 1884-1982) Heppner. Ernst had two, older, half-siblings, Else (1905-1944) and Heinz (later Henry, 1907-2005). Isidor owned one of the largest matzah factories in Germany, and the family lived a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle. The family adhered to very conservative, almost orthodox religious practices. During the summers, Hilda and Else managed their family’s strictly kosher hotel in Altheide, a resort town near the Czechoslovakian border. Hilda traveled often to visit her large family, so Ernst spent much of his time with Else, who had contracted polio as a child and required leg braces and canes.

    At his primary school in Breslau, Ernst was one of only two Jewish children in his class. He frequently experienced antisemitism from both teachers and other students, and got into many fights. Ernst was involved in a Jewish scouting group, which promoted paramilitary training and survival tactics. After completing primary school, Ernst was enrolled in a gymnasium (a college preparatory school). In 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor or Germany, and authorities quickly enacted anti-Jewish decrees that restricted every aspect of Jewish life. The family’s bank accounts were frozen. Ernst became ostracized at school, and was prohibited from participating with sports teams and class excursions. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed, mandating the total separation of Jews and non-Jews. Ernst was expelled from school, and his parents were forced to sell their hotel to non-Jews. Ernst began attending trade classes in welding and locksmithing, and became an apprentice at an industrial machinery company owned by a family friend.

    On November 9 and 10, 1938, officials instigated pogroms against Jews and their property throughout Germany, known as Kristallnacht. The local synagogue was set on fire, but since Isidor’s factory was hidden from the street, it was spared. During the pogroms, 30,000 Jewish men were also incarcerated in German concentration camps. Ernst managed to hide from the SS officers who came through their neighborhood, while his father and brother were shielded at the factory. The following day, fearing threats against his wife and baby, Heinz surrendered for arrest, and was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. His wife, Alice, managed to get him released a few weeks later.

    The family began looking at emigration options. Else planned to immigrate to South America with her fiancée. Hilda’s niece, who lived in Washington, D.C., sent an affidavit for the family, but the lengthy quota list made immigration to the United States impossible. The only other place they could immigrate to without visas was Shanghai, China. Hilda secured a cabin for two on the Potsdam, and in early spring 1939, Ernst and Hilda took a train to Genoa, Italy, where they boarded the ship. Isidor needed to remain in Germany until he could sell the factory and their property, and until Else could leave as well.

    Ernst and Hilda disembarked in Shanghai on March 28, 1939. Representatives from one of the Jewish committees met the new arrivals, and took them to a reception center and soup kitchen, where they remained for two weeks. Hilda quickly obtained a job as a caseworker for the Committee for the Assistance of European Refugees in Shanghai (CFA), assisting new refugees. This allowed Ernst and Hilda to rent a furnished room, rather than live in the overcrowded, primitive barracks in Hongkew, the Japanese-occupied district of the International settlement. Ernst soon made several new friends with whom he explored the city. That July, Ernst became ill with pneumonia and pleurisy, and was taken to a makeshift hospital run by the CFA. In August, Hilda received a letter from Heinz and his wife, Alice, who had been able to immigrate to England. They also received letters from various family members, including Isidor and Else, pleading for help.

    Ernst got a job working for a Russian-Jewish family who owned a toy store. He was soon appointed manager of a branch located inside a bookshop. While there, Ernst began learning to read English. In late 1940, Ernst’s branch closed, and he began working for the bookseller, selling English-language books and office supplies. He also joined a British Boy Scout troop called the Thirteenth Rovers, with other older teenagers. As a Rover, Ernst helped organize a two-week camp experience. Ernst also joined the Shanghai Volunteer Corps (SVC) as a driver. The SVC was a militia under the command of British officers that reinforced the International Settlement’s municipal police. Though he had no prior driving experience, Ernst passed his test at the end of 1940.

    In April 1941, Ernst met Illo Koratkowski (1923-2012), while helping to organize a charity ball. Illo had emigrated from Berlin in the spring of 1940, and worked for a rare-book dealer. That summer, Hilda left the CFA to work for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). After the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese also bombed the British ships docked in the Shanghai harbor and occupied the city. British and American citizens were incarcerated in POW camps, and Ernst was forced to stop his activities with the SVC and the scouting group. It became illegal for those in the United States to send funds directly to Shanghai, so the support organizations ran out of money, and Hilde lost her job in April 1942. On November 18, Ernst and Hilda received their last letter from Else, which was sent from a Jewish home via the Red Cross.

    On May 18, 1943, prompted by Nazi Germany, the Japanese forced the stateless refugees into a ghetto in Hongkew. Ernst and Hilda already lived within the borders, but couldn’t leave the ghetto without a pass. Ernst was forced to join an auxiliary police group, responsible for the self-protection of the ghetto, and became an assistant fire chief. He also began a new job at a bakery on the border of the ghetto, and received bread daily, as part of his wages. Hilda began operating a makeshift restaurant in their attic room.

    Ernst and Illo married on April 8, 1945. On May 10, they learned of Germany’s surrender to the Allies. On July 15, American planes bombed the wharves near the ghetto. Two days later, military installations inside the ghetto were bombed. The collateral damage killed thousands and destroyed the bakery where Ernst worked. They continued to endure frequent air raids until Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 14. Soon after, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) established offices and began distributing food, clothing, and medical supplies. Ernst and Illo were able to get civilian jobs with the American Army. In 1946, they were transferred to the Joint United States Military Advisory Group stationed in Nanking (now, Nanjing).

    In the spring of 1947, Ernst received a message from his mother that their quota numbers for the United States had been called. On July 14, Ernst, Illo, his mother, and his father-in-law arrived in San Francisco. Ernst, Illo, and Hilda moved to New York City, while Illo’s father settled in Chicago. Illo quickly obtained a job with an import/export company in Manhattan. Ernst Americanized his name to Ernest and began working as a typewriter mechanic. Their daughter was born in July 1948, and the family moved to the Midwest in 1949.

    Ernest did not learn the fates of his family until after the war. In April 1942, Isidor was deported to Kolomyja ghetto in German-occupied Poland, and likely died that year. Else was deported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia in April 1943. In October 1944, she was deported on transport Et to Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center in German-occupied Poland, where she was killed. Heinz and his wife settled permanently in England, where he changed his name to Henry. Henry was interned as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man, and released in April 1941. Ernest and Illo accompanied his mother during her move from New York to a retirement home in Basel, Switzerland in 1964. During that trip, Ernest reunited with his brother for the first time. Ernest became involved with the Anti-Defamation League, local survivor and Jewish groups, and civil rights activism. He also wrote an award-winning book documenting his war-time experiences.

    Physical Details

    Identifying Artifacts
    Object Type
    Badges (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Pressed, brass-colored, circular metal badge. In the center, floating within an open ring, there are three uppercase letters in a script font. This narrow ring is embossed with English text. Surrounding the ring is a laurel wreath with a banner containing a date at the bottom center. At the top of the badge is a molded truck. Emerging from the outer edges of the badge are the tips of seven sets of five, pointed rays. On the back, two perpendicular loops extend from each side of the center. The fastener for the badge is formed by a bent pin with a looped end, straight center, and two flared tips at the other end passing through the loops and held in place by tension. The surface of the badge is tarnished with patches of corrosion.
    overall: Height: 0.250 inches (0.635 cm) | Diameter: 1.250 inches (3.175 cm)
    overall : metal

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The badge was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1989 by Ernest G. Heppner.
    Record last modified:
    2023-11-08 14:25:48
    This page:

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