Jewish History in Shanghai

posted Jun 25, 2010, 11:26 PM by Unknown user



There are 3 distinct chapters of Jewish history in Shanghai, all taking place from 1850-1950.  


The first Jewish group to leave a mark were Iraqi Jews.  After the Opium Wars in China (between Britian and China) that ended around 1840, there was a large market for opium trade.  David Sassoon, the leader of a family from Baghdad, moved to Bombay, dealing with cotton.  In 1845 he sent his second son, Elias David Sassoon, to take advantage of the opium trade.  As Elias' business grew, he brought in more Iraqi orthodox Jews to help with the financing, and eventually the number swelled to about 1,000.  One of these was Eli Khadouri, whose family ended becoming mega-millionairs, owning the Penninsula hotel branch and the largest electricity company in Hong Kong today.  They are also famous philanthropists, having 2 Khadouri schools in Israel and more around the world, especially in Far East Asia. 


Another worker for Sassoon was Silus Chardoon.  Chardoon was a very large but poor man when he started working for Sassoon.  Because of his size, he began working as a rent collector.  As China was run through many under the table deals, he began making connections, and within 40 years became the richest person in the Far East, mainly as a real estate owner.  He basically developed Nanjing Road, which is the major artery of Shanghai, at one point owning 40% of the land along it.  He had 19 children.  When the cultural revolution in China came about in 1949, the Communist government took all of his families land and redistributed it to the people, which ended Chardoon's fortune.  However, many of the major buildings - including the very famous Peace Hotel and many other landmarks still present today, were developed by Chardoon.  


The second Jewish group to leave their mark were from Russia.  As anti-semitism and progroms against Jews around 1900 (under the czar) intensified, it became unpleasant for Jews to be in Russia.  Many Jews that served in the military, many of whom for 25 years of service fighting for Russia against Japan in the Far East, never returned to Russia. Many of these Jews went to Beijing (including, for example, Ehud Olmerts family), but in 1920, as Shanghai's reputation for an economic hub grew, they mostly left for Shanghai.  The Russian Jews, having a different culture and lower economic status than the Iraqi Jews, did not mix - like rice and noodles.  The approximately 5,000 Russian Jews did, however, develop their own European style culture - including restaurants, theatres, etc. - in Shanghai.   


In the 1930's conditions in Europe became intensely bad for Jews, at its pinnacle Kristellnacht (the night of broken glass).  At the time, the Japanese and Chinese fought, and Japan controlled much of China, including Shanghai.  Still, as Shanghai had many influences, it was one of the only open-port cities in the world, where people could just come without visas or passports.  Between 1840 and 1920, Shanghai grew to become the 4th largest city in the world and the financial center of Asia, much of it due to the open-port philosophy.  One interesting aspect of this policy was that many former criminals, as a result, came to Shanghai, which led to many gangs, prostitution, etc., eventually calling Shanghai the "whore" of the orient for this reason.  


Around the world, Jews had no place to go.  The famous Evian conference that dealt with Jewish refugees, for example, did little to help Jews escape.  Shanghai, therefore, offered a unique opportunity for those that could get there.  2 very notable, but today still relatively unknown, righteous gentiles deserve a great deal of credit for their good deeds.  


First, Sugi Hara, a Japanese consulate in Lithuania, allowed Jews from Poland to go through Lithuania, then on to Russia, and finally to China.  About 2,000 family permits (for a total of 4,000-5,000 people) were allowed through to China as a result of Sugi Hara.  This includes one entire congregation of 380 orthodox Jews that picked up together and relocated.  They prayed at Bet Aharon Synagogue in Shanghai, which was built by the Iraqi Jew, Sassoon, and still exists today.  Eventually, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, these permits stopped and Jewish immigration through this channel was closed off.  


Another very notable righteous gentile, and perhaps the one responsible for saving more Jews than any other, was Dr. Feng Shun Ho.  He worked at the Chinese consulate in Vienna, and gave about 10,000 Jews visas to go through Vienna on boats, through the Suez Canal that eventually reached Shanghai.  Most of Dr. Ho's permits came in 1938-1939, after Kristellnacht.  For several reasons Dr. Ho was not recognized as a righteous gentile until the late 1990's, when Yad Vashem gave him his official status. This was for several reasons.  First, he issued the visas in secret, and often did not even meet the people for whom he issued them.  Next, he signed and did all the paperwork in Chinese, so Jews were never able to read the Visas.  Finally, he was a very humble man, and the extent of his efforts were only realized and publicized in the early 1990s, right before he died, by his daughter, who was living in San Francisco with him.  Until this day, there isn't one memorial dedicated to Dr. Ho, though there are small displays about him in several museums around the world. 


Conditions for Jews in Shanghai were not so great.  In 1937, the gestapo sent Colonel Joseph Meisinger, the "butcher from Warsaw", to implement the final solution in Shanghai.  He came up with several plotts to destroy the Jews in China, such as isolating them on an island then performing experiments on them and gassing them.  However, the Japanese (who ruled China at the time) did not have anti-semitic attitudes.  The Germans did, however, exert their influence (as an ally of Japan) and eventually did succeed in influencing them to put the Jews in a ghetto in Shanghai.  Unlike Europe, the Jewish ghetto was mixed, with 20,000 Jews now forced to live in the same quarters with 100,000 Chinese.  Instead of walls there were checkposts, and many Jews were able to come and go for trade.  In fact, a Japanese soldier, who had a Napoleonic personality and was famous for standing on his chair and hitting those who asked for permits to exit, was in charge at the time.  Still, the ghettos were very unsanitary, and out of the 20,000 Jews living there throughout WW2, 2,000 were killed by diseases and malnutrition.  Jews were supported financially by several of the wealthy Iraqi Jews (who did not have to live in the ghettos because it only applied to immigrants that came after 1937), as well as the JDC (Joint Distribution Committee), that actually ran a soup-kitchen that fed nearly 8,000 Jewish ghetto residents every day.  


Today, although some parts of the ghetto are destroyed, as China even recently has built new roads through there, in part to add access to the main financial center of Shanghai as well as to prepare for the 2010 expo, people can still walk around and see the ghetto.  Michal Blumenthel, the US Secretary of the Treasury under Jimmy Carter (from 1977-79) grew up in the Jewish Ghetto in Shanghai, among others.  Even today, there are Chinese people living in the ghetto who remember the Jewish children giving them chocolates.  


On July 17th 1945, two weeks before Hiroshima and the end of WW2, US airplanes mistakenly dropped a bomb on the ghetto, killing 32 Jews.  They were aiming for a Japanese prison which was located nearby.  These people killed almost survived WW2 and the holocaust, making their deaths all the more tragic.  After WW2, many Jews who were affluent before WW2 but suffered for many years in the ghetto, left Shanghai.  Many of them left to Australia and America, particularly as Communism took hold in 1949.  


There were 4 Jewish cemetaries in Shanghai, however all 4 were destroyed by 1998 - not intentionally.  One became a factory, another a futuristic hotel, a third a muslim cemetary, and a 4th a park.  Today, Dvir, the man that gave us the tour, is busy with a project collecting the old Jewish headstones and trying to reassemble them in a memorial for Jews that lived and died in Shanghai.  He has collected over 85 headstones over the past 8 years, and is busy fighting the government trying to find a location in Shanghai for the memorial.  Currently they are at a frustrating impasse. 

Day 6

posted Jun 25, 2010, 11:25 PM by Unknown user

Dear Parents, 


Our final day has come to a close.  Your children are currently in their rooms, their bags packed, and getting ready to sleep (if they are not asleep yet).  Our alarm clocks are set for 4am - and we leave for the airport at 4:30am, as our flight leaves at 9am. (See details from our website or the packet we handed out).  I'll ask the students to call in Israel as soon as we know what train we are taking to Haifa - they leave every hour throughout the night.  


Today was full like the rest of the days.  In the morning we went on a 5 hour tour to learn about the Jewish history of Shanghai.  The guide was clear and knowledgeable, and I believe we all learned a great deal of what there is to know.  I've summarized the notes that we took below, and I really encourage everyone to read them


After the tour and lunch, we spent several hours at an indoor market, where the students had the opportunity to buy some gifts.  They really enjoyed bargaining with the merchants and looking through all the material.  At one point during the day, I asked the student to reflect about the trip and give me a quote about what was most meaningful.  This is what they said:


Inon - "I liked learning about Chinese culture and meeting Asian people."


Yuval - "Meeting really intersting people from around the world really opened my mind."


Lavy - "It was a once in a lifetime experience."


Bar - "Colliding with different people and a new culture confirmed my beleif that the world is really large."


Matan - "To compete in the Scholar's Cup and see Shanghai fulfilled a dream that I had.  It also showed me that many people love Israel, and that made me proud."


Or - "I learned how to debate very well and many things about new cultures."

Day 5

posted Jun 25, 2010, 11:25 PM by Unknown user

Dear Parents,


Today we spent most of the day in the World's fair expo.  The students really enjoyed it and preferred to see more exhibits and spend the day there, so we did.  At first we all went to the Israeli exhibition, which was very nice.  We were given VIP passes and the curator gave us a personal tour.  She explained that about 15,000 visitors come every day (there was a line around the corner).  Inside the exhibition, viewers watch (in Chinese) a 10 minute video that shows many Israeli inventions, following the theme of the expo, which is making cities and life better. I think most Israelis would find it very well done and "meragesh."


At 5pm, we took the subway to another part of the city, and there we watched an Acrobatic Troupe.  They were very impressive and the students enjoyed it very much.  We arrived back at the hotel not long ago and everyone is very tired from being on their feet all day.  


Tomorrow we are getting a tour of the "Jewish" Shanghai.  During WW2, about 30,000 Jews were given fake visas and moved to China.  Even through today there exists a Jewish community here (of about 800).  There is an Israeli that we got connected with who gives what many people described as impressive tours and explanations of the history of these Jews.  So tomorrow, from 10-2:30, we have an organized tour with him.  Otherwise, we will go to the Shanghai museum and do a little shopping.  Then we will return to the hotel early so we can pack and rest, as we need to depart for the airport on Tuesday night (China time) at 4 in the morning.  


Thank you to everybody who has responded saying that you enjoy these e-mails.  It is my pleasure.  I'll try to send one last one tomorrow night, before we leave for the airport.  Rest assured that all your children are safe and enjoying themselves very much. 

Day 4

posted Jun 25, 2010, 11:24 PM by Unknown user

Dear Parents, 


Today was a very long day, but like the rest, very rewarding. 


In the morning, after a quick breakfast, we took a bus to downtown Shanghai where the students concluded the conference.  


For the first few hours they participated in a knowledge-bowl, where they answered 72 questions using a remote device about the material they studied.  They said they enjoyed it very much.  


Afterwards, there was a talent show in which 3 of our students (Inon, Matan, and Yuval) performed.  They all got loud applause from the audience.  As only about 10-12 out of 600 people performed, and 3 of them were from Israel, our students represented Israel very well and the crowd liked them very much.  


Following the talent show, awards were given out.  Unfortunately, Leo Baeck did not win any awards.  However, this is not disappointing. Several teams from Singapore won nearly all the awards.  They have a year-long class preparing their students for this particular competition, and no country can really compete with them.  Our students understood this, and nobody was upset.  Rather, they were all very happy with the conference and want to continue going in future years.  


At about 5:30pm, the conference ended.  As we were already downtown, we said our goodbyes and took a walk to People's Square, which is a commercial area with a lot of people and bright lights.  We ate dinner there and walked around for about an hour.  After that, we went to the Shanghai World Financial Center, which is the world's third tallest building and has the highest observation deck on the planet.  We went to the top to see the view of the city, which everybody loved.  Following this, we went back to the hotel.  They are all in their rooms now, getting ready to sleep.  


Tomorrow, after breakfast, we will go back to the World's Fair expo, as there is a lot to see, including Israel's exhibition.  After that, we will go to the Shanghai museum to learn about Chinese history.  Then, at night, we have reservations to see Shanghai's best acrobatic theatre.  


I have been encouraging all the students to call home - and I believe that many have.  Please let me know if you have any special requests or need to communicate anything.  Please expect us back late (Shanghai time) tomorrow - so no calls before approximately 6pm Israel time.  

Day 3

posted Jun 25, 2010, 11:24 PM by Unknown user

Dear Parents, 


The day started at the Concordia School in Shanghai early in the morning. The students practiced a debate against each other first thing once they got there, watched a lecture by a famous author, then immediately entered the knowledge quiz, which was a 90 minute multiple-choice exam testing them on the information they have been studying over the past few months to prepare for the tournament.  


After lunch, the students entered the most intense part of the competition - which was the debates.  The students, in a 3-on-3 forum, debated against schools from other Asian countries.  Each team entered two debates.  Although they only won 1 of the 4 debates they entered (remember they are among the youngest and most inexperienced in the senior division), more importantly they left the debates in great spirits and feeling proud of their accomplishments.  


After dinner and a social hour, where I found them walking around the dining hall talking with new friends from around the world, they watched the debate showcase in a theatre with all the participants.  The showcase was a live debate with the best debaters from the tournament, which was very interesting to watch and certainly taught them some new lessons about how to debate and improve in the future.  Lavy got up in front of the audience and made the entire audience laugh (several times).  


Tomorrow, the entire group will be heading downtown to a Shanghai theatre to conclude the tournament.  There, they will take part in a knowledge-bowl, where they will each have a remote control and answer questions against other teams, followed by a closing ceremony.  


Please remember that we land in Tel-Aviv on Thursday, 24 June, at 3:30am.  If all goes well we will arrive in Haifa at around 6 in the morning.  

Day 2

posted Jun 25, 2010, 11:23 PM by Unknown user

Dear Parents, 


Just now our 2nd day ended - the students have just now gone to bed.  The day was VERY busy at the tournament but filled with many "chavayot".  They are all getting along very well and enjoying everything very much.  We just did a little Kabbalat Shabbat, where everyone shared their experiences so far and expectations for the rest of the trip.  


I really apologize if they have not e-mailed or called during the day.  Please understand the schedule was very busy from the moment we woke up.  In the morning they were at a welcome assembly with all the 600 students from the competition.  In the afternoon they took part in the essay contest, where they had to write for over 3 hours.  Then, we immediately went to the World Expo (eating sandwhiches on the bus) where they took part in another contest there.  They were barely given a minute to rest and are surrounded by a lot of stimulation - many students from mostly Asian countries, the competition, and of course Shanghai itself.   

Tomorrow we are waking up early and going to the conference site.  In the morning they will watch a lecture by a famous author, and in the afternoon they will each take part in 3 debates.  At night there will be more activities and once again they will return to the hotel at a relatively late hour.  


I want you all to know that I am very proud of them.  They are very positive, supportive of one another, and are all getting along very well with others.  You should also rest assured that the conference site is very safe.  There is security and things are very well organized.  


On Monday they seem to want to go back to the World's Fair Expo (because they didn't get to see the Israeli exhibition), but we will discuss it more first.  At night we have tickets to see a highly recommended acrobatic troupe theatre.  On Tuesday we will be taking an organized tour by an Israeli to learn about Jewish sites and history in Shanghai.  


Let me know if you have any questions or comments, and again I apologize if they did not call or you didn't get an e-mail in the past 24 hours.  I will remind them to call, and I will again e-mail tomorrow evening to report on the day.  

Day 1

posted Jun 25, 2010, 11:22 PM by Unknown user

Dear Parents, 


Just wanted to send you a quick message from the hotel in Shanghai saying that we arrived safely, enjoyed the afternoon in the city of Shanghai, and now are back in the hotel, resting and preparing ourselves for the beginning of the competition tomorrow.  


The flight was long, as expected, and the group (including myself) is tired.  But everyone is positive, as usual.  I'll try to keep you informed regularly and if there are any questions please do not hesitate to e-mail me.  

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