In 2013, we had the chance to introduce a selection of images created by the Jewish-Israeli photographer Sam Sanzetti (1902- 1986) who owned a famous studio in Shanghai in the first half of the twentieth century.
Although countless people went to his studio in order to get commemorative portraits, Sanzetti left few traces behind him. Fortunately, personal stories from here and there allow us to piece together the puzzle. Of particular interest, Mrs C.W. recently looked through Sanzetti’s archive and realized he took a photo of her grandma and other family members. She explains: “Dad is 89 years old and is living in Shanghai. He told me that he met Mr. Sanzetti during 1941-1942 in Shanghai. Dad said that Mr. Sanzetti visited our house often during that period. Sam was introduced to us through his business partner at the time, Ms. Wu. Sam took a few photos of my grandma and my aunt. Last time Dad saw Sam was in 1957 in Hong Kong (on the street). Dad said that Sam told him he was going home to Israel.”
Mrs C.W.’s grandmother had six children who were nicknamed as DoDo, ReRe, MiMi and FaFa, DoReMiFa like the music tone. The picture below shows from left MiMi, Mrs C.W’s father, FaFa and ReRe. Mrs C.W suspects this picture was taken around the time that Sanzetti was coming to their house for Chinese dinner. It was right after her grandfather’s death, her father was 9-10 years old. Today only Mrs C.W’s father and ReRe are still living in Shanghai and Beijing.
Mrs C.W’s father remembers specifically that Sam also took a photo of her aunt FaFa at his studio. He says: “FaFa was facing the camera wearing Chinese Qipao [Chinese term meaning the long dress very popular in the 1930s], and the bottom of her dress was somehow lifted a little, giving the feeling that she was going to fly, that is why I remember this photo so clearly and this photo went on to win some kind of award”. Unfortunately as of today, we have not found this photo. Below is another photo of FaFa.
There is also a heart-warming story behind how Sanzetti helped Mrs C.W.’s family to survive through the war. Mrs C.W. recalls: “My grandfather was educated in Japan, he studied law. He became a judge during Japanese occupation in Shanghai. Because he refused to cooperate with the Japanese, eventually he was murdered in front of our house in November 1939. At that time, my uncle Harvey was in the United States and aunt DoDo (my oldest aunt) was away. After grandfather’s death, my grandma could not afford to live in our family house anymore, so she moved the family to a much smaller house in the same neighbourhood. A family friend Ms. Wu from Hong Kong came to Shanghai, she was looking for a job. Ms. Wu spoke very good English, so she lived with the family for a while, about 6 months. Later on, Ms. Wu became Sam’s business partner, and she introduced Sam to the family.
Grandfather was the breadwinner of the family. After his death, grandma ran into some financial trouble. Sam loved my grandma’s Chinese food, so he suggested to grandma that ‘how about I pay you to cook Chinese food for me and my partner every week (2-3 times)?’ Dad remembered for about 6 - 8 months, Sam and his partner Ms. Wu came to our house 2-3 times a week. Grandmother and her helper cooked Chinese food in the kitchen, all four kids were not allowed to go to the dining room, they must stay in the back room. Dad said that Sam and Ms. Wu ate very little each time, always very appreciative of grandmother’s cooking, the leftover of the Chinese food went to the kids and the adults. Basically, Sam fed the entire family during this time. Dad could not remember the reason why this arrangement was stopped. As of today, Dad still remember Sam fondly what he did for our family.”