Seeking freedom via wartime Macau

As Jews across the world celebrate Passover, the liberation from slavery in Egypt, this year again complete with a live plague, Strangers On The Praia recalls the pandemic of hatred in the 1930s and 1940s that sent Europe’s Jews running for their lives halfway around the world.

Distinguished author Paul French uses the story of a young refugee with a toxic J stamped on her German passport to illustrate the desperate plight of scores of Jews that landed in Macau. A colony of neutral Portugal in a sea of Japanese occupation, Macau provided a temporary haven and slender ray of hope for migrants seeking a path to safety.

At Passover, Jews are instructed to retell the story of slavery in Egypt so that no generation will forget. Strangers On The Praia portrays another world gone mad with hate in microcosm. In this modern moment of plague, it’s a reminder of how easily prejudice turns poisonous and how far ranging its impact.

It’s also a reminder of the overwhelming goodness of humanity. This concise volume portrays Macau’s efforts to care for the refugees – not just Jews, but some 300,000 souls fleeing Japanese occupied China and Hong Kong, including future gambling mogul Stanley Ho – that tripled the city’s population at a time of great privation for all and tells of great risks taken to help others. Published by Blacksmith Books in Hong Kong, Strangers On The Praia delivers a moving tale for a holiday season in a difficult time.

Macau’s Inner Harbor around 1940.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, also from Blacksmith Books, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.