Elie Jacques Tennenbaum was born in Krakow in 1917 to Leon Tennenbaum and Rose Stern. At the age of 22, driven by the restrictions on Jews studying medicine in Poland, Elie left his home for France and entered medical school. His parents remained in Poland and perished in the Holocaust. With the Nazi occupation of Paris, Elie was forced to flee France, securing passage from Marseilles to Shanghai, China in 1939. In Shanghai, Elie continued his medical studies at Aurora University, which was run by the Jesuits, and lived in a house in Hongkui owned by Mr. Rubin Goldberg. Elie Tennebaum received his medical degree in 1945 and worked in the Shanghai Refugee Hospital. Elie met Stella Reich in medical school in Shanghai. Stella Reich (Reichova) was born in 1916 in Moravska-Ostrava, Czechoslovakia into a successful merchant family. She started medical school at the German University in Prague but was forced to discontinue her studies after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. Stella's sister left Czechoslovakia for England and unsuccessful attempts were made to secure passage to England for Stella. Stella's parents eventually bought her a ticket on the SS Conte Rosso, a ship sponsored by the American Joint Distribution Committee which carried refugees from Italy to Shanghai monthly. She arrived in Shanghai in Spring of 1940 and entered Aurora University as a medical student in 1943. After the war, Stella was able to get into the United States on the Czech quota. Elie came to the United States in 1948 on a student visa. Stella found work with the Southern Pacific Hospital in San Francisco. Elie found an intership with St. Mary's. Stella passed her state boards in 1978 at the age of 63 and worked as a physician for the city of San Francisco for many years. Elie opened a private practice in the Phelan building on Market Street and was on staff at Mt. Zion for over 30 years. Elie and Stella had two children. Elie Tennebaum died in 1999 and Stella died in 2004.
The collection includes Elie and Stella Tennenbaum's personal and professional documents, correspondence, ephemera, and photographs. The personal documents in the collection, as well as the correspondence from Europe, China and the United States, reveal the transient life of Jewish refugees during World War II and document the sometimes desperate attempts at movement and migration. The professional documents provide a detailed picture of Elie Tennenbaum's attempts to complete his medical education in France and Shanghai and to find work in the United States. Most of the correspondence in the collection is dated in the 1940s, but some is from the 1930s. The collection includes a medical school diploma issued by Aurora University in Shanghai to Stella Reich(ova) in 1946. In addition, the collection includes some ephemera relating to the Jewish refugee community in Shanghai.