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The Chronology of the Jews of Shanghai from 1832 to the Present Day

The Chronology of the Jews of Shanghai from 1832 to the Present Day

The early history of the modern Jews in China is closely related to the history of the Sassoon family, also known as the "Rothschilds of the East." It commences in the middle of the 19th century when the Treaty Ports were declared open to foreign trade. A certain David Sassoon who settled in Bombay, India, in 1832, established a firm dealing mainly in cotton, tea, opium and silk. In the pre-treaty-ports days he traded with Canton in South China and succeeded in gaining a predominant position in these trades. When the Treaty Ports were opened, David Sassoon decided to extend the interests of his growing firm by sending his sons to establish branches in China.

Thus Elias David Sassoon came to China in 1844 and founded branches of David Sassoon & Co. in Shanghai, Canton and Hongkong. Elias David Sassoon was a very capable and successful businessman who did a great deal to further the Sassoon interests in China. In 1867 he left his father's firm and opened his own branches in Shanghai and Hongkong under the name of E.D. Sassoon & Co.

This company grew to such an extent in the coming years, that it soon far surpassed the senior undertaking, and the name of E.D. Sassoon & Co. has come to be considered in the Far East as a synonym for mercantile and banking power. The Sassoons in the 19th century were extremely religious, and the founder, David Sassoon, rigidly observed the law of tithes. They also followed the very praiseworthy and effective policy of encouraging Jewish young men to enter their employ. These youths received their necessary training and experience at the Sassoon offices in Bombay, and if in time they displayed business capabilities, they were sent out to China as clerks or managers, preference being naturally given to those who had a blood relationship or who married into the family. This arrangement, therefore, resulted in the fact that the first nucleus of Jews in Shanghai were either Sassoons or in their employ, and furthermore meant that the descendants of former Sassoon employees constituted a large section of the former Sephardi community in Shanghai.

In these early days when Shanghai was as yet undeveloped, the firm provided living accommodations for their foreign staff, and it was probably in such quarters that the first minyan, composed of young members of the company, met. In 1850 the list of Foreign Residents in Shanghai discloses that there were three Jews in Shanghai at that time, all described as "assistants of the firm David Sassoon, Sons and Co."

In 1862 there must have already been a small Jewish community in Shanghai as in that year David Sassoon presented to the local Jewish congregation a cemetery located on Mohawk Road. This cemetery which continued to be used until 1919, is the only record at present of the existence of the local Jewish community in its early days. In 1887 the Jewish Community of Shanghai came into official existence in a special general meeting of the subscribers to the new synagogue known as "Beth-El." Later, some of the leading members of the community headed by D.E.J.Abraham and S.J. Solomon founded the "Sheerith Israel" synagogue for the more strictly orthodox members of the community.

By this time, various Jewish employees of the Sassoon undertakings, for instance Mr. S.A. Hardoon, had established their own firms. A number of English Jews, such as Mr. L. Moore and others, had also arrived independently in Shanghai and inaugurated various successful enterprises in this city. At the turn of the century the Shanghai Jewish community, principally composed of Sephardis, had grown to such proportions that a small wooden house was rented and a Jewish School started there with the purpose of infusing Judaism and gradually other subjects were added to the syllabus.

About this time the first Russian Ashkenazi Jews began to reach Shanghai from Siberia, Manchuria and North China. They possessed entirely different backgrounds, professions and outlook on life than those of their Sephardi brethren. The Sephardim had come from the British Empire, spoke English and because the British had dealt with them justly, they wholeheartedly supported the Empire. The Ashkenazim had come from the Russian Empire, spoke Russian, but because they had suffered much persecution they were already then considered people without an actual homeland. The Sephardi Jews had come to Shanghai when it was merely a village on the banks of the Whangpoo, but which already then had been selected, because of its geographic position, as the natural outlet for Central China. With extreme foresight they bought land at unbelievably low prices, established banking and commercial undertakings and by the beginning of the 20th century had become the business leaders of the Eastern Metropolis.

The Ashkenazi Jews having come much later, established themselves in the retail business and opened boarding houses and bars for the numerous foreign troops which were stationed in Shanghai. It was only gradually that they entered the old-established Hongs or commercial undertakings, and even so, it was the younger generation of Ashkenazi Jews educated in the East, who actually accomplished it. Nevertheless, at no time did the controlling power, both in wealth and political influence of the Ashkenazi Jews in Shanghai, who in numbers are about six times as large, amount to even a sizeable fraction of that of the Sephardi Jews.

Ashkenazi Jews had been migrating to Shanghai since the beginning of the 20th century (around 1904) but the influx reached substantial proportions only after the collapse of Czarist Russia in 1918. Prior to that date, only a few Ashkenazi Jews, some of whom deserted from the Russian Army and possessed an adventurous spirit, had come to Shanghai. After 1918, however, Russian Jews who, together with thousands of White Russians, feared the Communists, fled to Harbin, Manchuria and thence, in most cases, to Shanghai. These late comers were both culturally and morally, of a much higher standard than the early Ashkenazi pioneers. They did not reach Shanghai simultaneously, as the Russian Revolution lasted in Siberia till 1923. Furthermore, many established themselves successfully in Harbin and lived there for several years before leaving for Shanghai when the economic position of the foreigners in Manchuria were undermined by the Japanese authorities. It can be stated, therefore, that the Russian Jews started coming gradually but persistently to Shanghai after 1916, with the regular emigration increasing during the period of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1932.

The World War (1914-1918) besides affecting Shanghai Jewry to the extent of bringing numerous Russian Jews to this city, did not produce anything spectacular in the community which naturally wholeheartedly supported the Allied effort. Individual Jews of English, American, French and even Russian nationality joined the fighting forces of their countries.

Generally speaking, World War I brought favourable economic repercussions to the entire Far East, particularly Shanghai, as this area, except for occasional German sea raiders and the outburst of fighting in Tsingtao, remained outside the active war zones. Another advantage consisted in the fact that all the nations bordering the Pacific, including Japan and China, were allies politically, economically and for some time militarily. The two decades following World War I marked the greatest development in Shanghai's history and also in that of its Jewish community. In one of the most outstanding progress feats of modern times, Shanghai, which had been a fisherman's village and pirates haunt less than a century ago, became the fifth greatest harbour in the world with an aggregate population of about 4,500,000 inhabitants.

The city which before the war occupied a small area known as Hongkew and a business district along the waterfront called the Bund, suddenly stretched eastwards, southwards and westwards and, what is more, upwards. Large skyscrapers and some buildings with escalators began to appear, particularly in the business districts. The value of real estate increased tenfold and even then continued soaring upwards. Trade multiplied itself rapidly, turning Shanghai into the economic nerve-center of the Far East. The imports and exports of Central and to certain extent of North and South China were handled in ever increasing quantities, generally by foreign firms, through the port of Shanghai. The city grew with such speed that conflicts such as the 1927 and 1932 Sino-Japanese incidents failed to seriously hinder its progress and prosperity.

The Jewish community in Shanghai during these two decades increased both in importance and numbers. The Sassoon and Hardoon interests became extremely important in the realty field, the Hayim interests began to play an important role in public utilities, whilst the Kadoorie interests, besides maintaining their hold on the world-famed Malayan rubber, continued to progress in other directions.

 The Sephardi community grew in numbers, with several families arriving from Iraq and India. In 1919 a new and extensive Jewish cemetery was acquired in Baikal Road and placed at the disposal of the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities. In 1920 a most imposing synagogue situated on Seymour Road was presented to the community by Jacob Elias Sassoon who named it the Ohel Rachel Synagogue in memory of his wife Rachel. The synagogue was intended for the congregants of the Beth El Synagogue. In 1927 Silas A. Hardoon presented another beautiful synagogue situated on Museum Road which was known as the Beth Aharon Synagogue in memory of his father Aaron. This synagogue was intended for the congregants of the Sheerith Israel Synagogue. Thus the Sephardi Jewish community maintained two synagogues for regular religious services.

Meanwhile the Jewish community did not neglect education, the Shanghai Jewish School continued progressing and in 1932 moved from Dixwell Road in the Hongkew district to Seymour Road, adjacent to the Ohel Rachel Synagogue. The newly erected premises became the best of their kind in Shanghai. It had a very modern structure and a well-equipped laboratory was installed in 1938. The school acquired a reputation in Shanghai for scholastic achievement second to none. The Ashkenazi community also advanced rather rapidly on the path of progress during the two decades following World War I.

The division line between the two sections of the Jewish community were gradually narrowed as the Ashkenazim began to take their share of communal life in Shanghai. Their religious services being different to a certain extent, the Ashkenazim maintained temporary synagogues of their own. The first one, the Ohel Moshe, was set up in 1902 in rooms alloted by the Sephardi Sheerit Israel synagogue. In 1927 it moved to new premises on Ward Road in the Hongkew district. In 1941, by public subscription, the New Synagogue was erected in Rue Tenant de la Tours in the French Concession of Shanghai. The Ashkenazi Jews, constituting mainly Russian-speaking Jews, also formed their own club, where they often spent their evenings. Another Ashkenazi communal undertaking was the China Branch of the Brith Trumpeldor Youth Movement. Nevertheless, a number of joint Sephardi-Ashkenazi activities already indicated the real trend of the times. Both communities sent most of their children to the Shanghai Jewish School which was Sephardi controlled.

Sephardi and Ashkenazi youth were closely involved in the 5th Shanghai Jewish Boy Scouts Troops which had in the past proved itself the foremost in the city, and in the 9th Shanghai Girl Guide Troop, as well as in the Jewish Company of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps. The S.V.C. was established on April 4th, 1854, and was the largest and admittedly best military volunteer unit in Shanghai. Furthermore, the Jewish Recreation Club had done excellent work in that direction by bringing the Jewish youth together in various sports activities such as football, tennis, ping-pong, etc. The Bnai Brith Shanghai Lodge No.1102 inaugurated in 1928 had for many years played and increasingly important part in the Shanghai Jewish Community. It included amongst its brethren the leaders of both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities and had therefore done a great deal to unite them.

The Bnai Brith Lodge also operated the local Bnai Brith Hospital for destitute Jews who were given free medical treatment and even hospitalization if necessary. The Ashkenazi community also maintained a Shelter House for aged Jews who had no means of subsistence. The Ashkenazi community had its own rabbi, Rabbi Ashkenazi, and a fully qualified shochet. The Sephardi community was governed by a body known as the Jewish Communal Association which controlled all Sephardi activities and also employed a rabbi, Rev. Mendel Brown, B.A., as well as a shochet and a secretary. The affairs of the Shanghai Jewish Community were running very smoothly when the Sino-Japanese conflict broke out in August 1937.

During the summer of that year the Shanghai Jewish Youth Association (S.J.Y.A.) under the auspices of Mr. Horace Kadoorie had just come into being and had organized, with the Shanghai University [St. John's] situated on the outskirts of the city, to send out 200 boys and girls to spend the summer on the campus. The children had a wonderful vacation there, the food was excellent, the accommodations very good and the program left nothing to be desired.

But hardly had the children returned to Shanghai when suddenly, on August 13th, the city was thrown into the throes of war. During the first days of the Sino-Japanese conflict nearly 4000 persons were killed and wounded by air-raids in the streets of Shanghai, amongst them several Jews. The northern areas of the city comprising Chapei which was under Chinese jurisdiction, and the Hongkew district of the International Settlement, were badly damaged by artillery and naval bombardment, as well as by aerial attacks. Shanghai lived in a state bordering on panic for over two months, with the outskirts gutted by fire and an occasional shell or bomb exploding in the central areas. Foreigners of all nationalities began to evacuate the city. Most of them, especially those with small children, went temporarily to Hongkong with British passports.

It was during those hectic days that a deed of heroism was performed and which will always remain recorded in the annals of the Jewish Community of Shanghai. Three Jewish young men serving in the S.V.C. on hearing that Hongkew was burning, took a motorcar and drove madly through the raging inferno which was Hongkew and saved the Holy Scrolls, the Torahs located in Ohel Moshe, the small Ashkenazi synagogue of the district. They returned safely though not before numerous shots had been fired at them and their tin helmets had been partly perforated. This deed goes far to show that Jewish manhood in Shanghai and elsewhere can display as much physical courage as any other when something has to be accomplished.

The hostilities around Shanghai affected numerous Ashkenazi Jews who had been residing in and possessed property in Hongkew. These people had to move to the undestroyed areas south of Soochow Creek. Some settled with their more fortunate relatives, others were given financial assistance which was obtained from American and Shanghai sources.

It was in 1938, after the hostilities in Shanghai's immediate vicinity had been concluded and the city was living through its worst economic crisis, that an event of unprecedented importance for the Shanghai Jewish Community occurred: the coming of the German and Austrian Jewish refugees. Since 1933, when the Nazis seized power in Germany and proclaimed themselves openly anti-Semitic, the Shanghai Jews sympathized with the victims of this remorseless persecution. But little did they imagine that they would be called upon to support a large number of their brethren and that Shanghai would become the new residence of many of these refugees in a not very distant future.

During the first five years of Hitler's regime only a few Jews belonging to the wealthy class or those enjoying world-wide professional fame left the Reich. They migrated to neighbouring European countries, some even went to the U.S.A. and Palestine. A few, mainly physicians and dentists, came to Shanghai and the economic conditions prevailing before 1938 being favourable, they established themselves successfully.

In November 1938 the Nazis, feeling themselves sufficiently strong to confront the world's public opinion, pounced on the Von Rath incident and commenced a systematic anti-Jewish campaign of unprecedented proportions. Jews were hustled away to notorious concentration camps such as Dachau and Buchenwald, properties were confiscated and Jewish shops were looted. It was then that the decision was taken that the German and Austrian Jews had to emigrate, unless they wished to face total extinction. It is to the credit and honour of the American government and people that the U.S. was the only nation which effectively protested against this barbaric treatment inflicted on the Jews by withdrawing their ambassador from the Third Reich. In searching for a haven of refuge, both the various committees and individuals found that by this time most countries had hermetically sealed their doors to Jewish refugees, either because of unemployment or because of the impending World War.

It was then that Shanghai, the Eastern Metropolis, came into the picture as a new Jewish home. The principal reasons for this were twofold. Firstly, because of the Sino-Japanese conflict Shanghai had no emigration authorities and could easily be entered. Secondly, the cost of living in Shanghai at that period was extremely low, so that it was possible to satisfactorily feed an adult refugee for Sh.$20. (or approx. US$ 2.70 at the then current rate of exchange) per month. German and Austrian Jewish refugees therefore started pouring into Shanghai in the latter part of 1938, with the flood reaching its peak around August 1939.

The majority of the emigrants came via Trieste or Genoa aboard Lloyd Triestino steamers such as the Conte Biancamano, Conte Rosso, Conte Verde, Victoria and Giulio Cesare, which in several trips carried as many as 800 emigrants and became known as the "Refugee Ships of the East." Others came by German boats of the North German Lloyd and Japanese ships of the Nippon Yusen Kaisha. Some refugees travelled via the Trans-Siberian Railway through Russia, then by boat to Japan and after some time arrived in Shanghai.

It must be stated in connection with the coming of about 22,000 Jewish refugees to Shanghai, three exceedingly important points should have deterred the responsible persons from sending or advising so many Jews from coming to China: 1. That manual labour is practically impossible for the foreigner in China as this is against the social structure of the East, and that at any rate he cannot compete with the Chinese whose standard of living is much lower than that of the foreigner. 2. That in 1937 the foreign population of Shanghai, excluding the Japanese, was around 43,000 amongst whom about 6,000 were Jews, and that the addition of 22,000 Jewish foreigners without financial means might tend to cause a social upheaval. 3. That Shanghai had become a city of corporations and not of individual enterprises, and that therefore practically the only successful persons are those, usually Britons and Americans, who are connected by contract with powerful undertakings.

The Shanghai Municipal Council and the Japanese military authorities, having decided in August 1939 that the city could not stand a yet larger influx of European refugees, were forced to take measures, closing Shanghai for the first time to refugees who did not possess a sizeable capital or who did not have responsible persons in Shanghai guaranteeing for them. This decree met with almost unanimous approval in Shanghai where it was understood that the emigration had to be halted.

A month later, in September 1939, World War II broke out and except for a few emigrants already on their way and a few more who came through special permits, the large scale emigration to Shanghai, as far as German and Austrian Jews were concerned, came to an end. It was a problem of enormous magnitude for the comparatively small Jewish community to cope with the thousands of fleeing brethren coming to this city.

In their difficult task they were greatly assisted by American Jewry, which by dispatching financial aid, actually saved the Jewish refugees from dire misery. Every Jewish organization in Shanghai, millionaire and schoolboy, assisted in the task of settling the Jewish refugees. Jobs were found wherever possible, donations large and small were sent, and even non-Jewish foreigners in Shanghai often did their share in helping the newcomers.

The first arrivals in 1938 were cared for by an organization known as the "Hilsfond fur deutsch Juden" (Relief Fund for German Jews). But in August 1938, when it became apparent that the emigration would reach enormous proportions, it was decided to found and International Committee for granting relief to European refugees, with wider and more embracing powers. This committee, commonly known as the "IC" operated a Registration Office, where all refugees were registered; the Sir Victor Sassoon Rehabilitation Fund which granted loans to refugee undertakings; a Milk Fund for distributing milk amongst refugee children; a Legal Department which gave advice and settled disputes through its arbitration board; a Passport Department which issued local passports; an Employment Department which tried to find suitable employment for refugees; a Thrift Shop which sold to the Shanghai public articles belonging or made by the Jewish refugees, as well as libraries, nurseries and scholarships.

The most powerful organization, however, as far as the Jewish emigrants were concerned, was the Committee for the Assistance of Jewish Refugees which provided food and shelter for the destitute refugees and which derived the bulk of its funds from the Jewish Joint Committee in New York. The Assistance Committee was inaugurated in January 1939 and at its peak operated six refugee homes where food and shelter were provided. It also distributed food to those needy refugees living outside these homes and took care of the health of the refugees by maintaining a hospital, an isolation hospital, a maternity ward, a polyclinic, a dental parlour and a central dispensary where medicines were distributed gratis to the emigrants. The financial situation of this Committee grew worse as time went by because the cost of living in Shanghai increased by over 400% during 1940-1941, the income from America decreased owing to the necessity of helping needy Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, and war funds and war collections instituted in Shanghai curtailed the local income. Hence the Assistance Committee had to cut down its activities and distributed only one meal daily instead of the previous three.

This naturally intensified the sufferings of the poorer sections comprising by far the majority of the Jewish refugees. Picture yourselves the lives of the average Jewish emigrants who came to Shanghai. Hardly had they caught sight of the muddy banks of the Whangpoo than they were herded away in trucks to their new destination, the refugee homes. They passed through destroyed blocks of Hongkew which was then almost completely deserted, and after having taken a glance at this miniature of "ruined civilization" they reached their newly-established homes. A dreary, uneventful and hopeless life began. Hongkew became, except for a few wealthier refugees who moved south, the refugee district of the city. Out of sight of Shanghai's foreigners who disliked visiting this forlorn quarter, they continued to lead an existence based entirely on the past. Food and living accommodations were poor, and the mortality rate surpassed the norm. The refugees, the large majority of whom were men, gradually lost hope. Many in pre-Hitler days had been successful businessmen, artisans, journalists, professionals, etc. They could only be saved either by emigration to a new country or by a great and total change in the local situation.

A number of German and Austrian refugees fitted themselves into the economic life of Shanghai. Those who possessed capital opened various businesses, such as night clubs, boarding houses, etc. A number of youths who spoke English obtained suitable occupations. Others in large numbers became pedlars but generally met with little success. The desperation of their conditions drove many to crime and this, coupled with the fact that to a large degree they appeared to have lowered the dignity of the foreigners in the East, caused them to be disliked by the other foreigners who, in many cases, refused to employ refugees when an opening occurred in their business.

The German and Austrian Jewish refugees were more successful in their religious, social and cultural life than in their economic one. Although they never erected their own synagogue, they appointed qualified rabbis and used several temporary synagogues. During the Jewish festivals a number of halls were hired for religious services. In the social field they had their own morning and afternoon newspapers, organized interesting theatrical shows, concerts and dances.

The older sections of the Shanghai Jewish Community cooperated by accepting refugees in the Jewish Recreation Club (J.R.C.) where because of their numbers, they constituted the majority. The Brith Trumpeldor organized a new branch of their world-wide organization in Hongkew especially devoted to the German Jewish refugees. Jewish refugee children living south of Soochow Creek were enrolled upon arrival in the Shanghai Jewish School, whilst those living in Hongkew attended a new school opened by Mr. Horace Kadoorie's S.JY.A. where regular subjects were taught, particular emphasis being laid on the English language and correct pronunciation.

Let us see how the Jewish community, excluding the newcomers, fared during the years 1938-1941, a period so momentous in the history of the world. As previously stated, they assisted their brethren from Europe as far as possible. This is particularly true of the wealthier sections of the Sephardi community. The Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews became more united than they ever were previously due to their participation and association with various community activities such as the A.Z.A. Junior Bnai Brith, expansion of Betar and Revisionist members, Jewish magazines and periodicals written in English and Yiddish, various sports activities, etc. There were also mixed committees that attended to the requirements of the old Jewish community as wells as to the welfare of the European immigrants.

There were a few intermarriages between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews. This first started when Russian Jews arrived after the First World War. The Sephardi Jews, especially the younger generation, seemed to have more in common with the Russian Jews than the new immigrants from Europe. If matters had continued in a stabilised form to around the 1980's, marriage between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews would have been quite common. However, there existed quite a number of distinctions and differences in values between the two communities. Not all Russians could speak English; there were different culinary tastes; a lot of Russian Jews squandered their income on gambling on horse and dog races. Some could not hold their drink and often got drunk and jailed. Some Russian Jews opened up places of ill-repute and some engaged in prostitution.

The Sephardi Jews were more united; they led a close-knot and protected family life and were extremely well-mannered, partly due to the influence and association with the British in finance, trade and industry. The world political situation around July 1941 affected Shanghai. Importation demands, machinery, spare parts as well as necessary funds were curtailed.

Around October 1941, the 4th U.S. Marine Corps who were stationed in Shanghai left quite secretly for the Philippines, and then on December 7th the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour which brought about the Pacific War. Prices for food and commodities sky-rocketed and the Japanese imposed more restrictions on the population. The Japanese became a member of the Axis group fighting the Allies. Enemy nationals were interned in separate P.O.W. camps and many American civilians were cruelly treated and killed. The Russians and Russian Jews were not interned because during that period Japan and Russia signed a pact of neutrality. Some Sephardi Jews holding dual passports were not interned while many gave up their British passports and became stateless citizens but had to wear a red, numbered armband.

In 1942 Japanese was taught at the Shanghai Jewish School in order to be on good terms with the occupiers. The refugees underwent a very difficult period. The Japanese issued food and coal rations which were inadequate. Those who had money and good connections with the Chinese managed secretly to obtain certain goods and food products at high, black market rates. A number of refugees committed suicide because of the terrible situation.

Later on, in July 1945, just before the end of the war, many refugees as well as Chinese were killed and injured during an American air-raid on the outskirts of Shanghai and the Bund area. When reports arrived at the end of 1942 that Jews were being sent to the gas chambers and that other atrocities were being perpetrated by Nazi Germany, they were greeted with disbelief. When reliable Jewish sources and later the BBC confirmed such reports, the whole Jewish community was stunned and one can imagine the anxiety of the refugees for their family members and friends who were still in Europe.

On August 15th, 1945 the first news arrived of Japan's surrender to America and thus ended the Pacific War. Shanghai was overwhelmed with joy, but this was also the beginning of the end of all foreign residence in Shanghai as well as in the other cities in China. The old Jewish community was shell-shocked, because most of them realised that their livelihood was threatened and also the great responsibility they carried concerning the welfare and fate of the refugees. SOS messages were sent, especially to America, and help in the form of food packages, blankets and clothing came from the U.J.A., private individuals and later from UNWRA.

In 1946 an American naval unit came to the port of Shanghai and stayed for a period of time. Quite a number of American Jewish sailors attended the Friday night services at the Ohel Rachel Synagogue. Many of the local members stayed on after the regular services to hear and join in the special service that was conducted by an American chaplain according to the prayer books issued by the U.S. Army. A number of American Navy men were invited to Sephardi homes to have a taste of their meals and to be introduced to their families. In 1946 world events proceeded swiftly. Peace treaties, the return of POW's, refugee rehabilitation, relief organizations, Nazis brought to trial, etc. were only some of the urgent matters facing the newly created United Nations. Many foreigners and some Jews managed to leave Shanghai mainly by boat.

The war between the Chinese Nationalists and Communists intensified. Foreign powers were on the threshold of giving up their concessions in Shanghai. The foreigners were feeling the pinch with food prices and other commodities increasing monthly. In early 1947 local Jewish residents and European refugees were employed by the U.S. Air and Naval forces and by other American organizations. This lasted till November 1948 when most jobs were terminated due to the departure of the Americans from Shanghai. But by 1947 the Chinese Communist Army were advancing on all fronts and the influence of Communism began to be felt in Shanghai. Wage disputes due to inflation and strikes were common. Many big firms went bankrupt because of the prolonged war and occupation; rubber plantations, cotton mills, navigation enterprises etc. made losses that affected the stock exchange. Furthermore, the main offices of the Shanghai Stock Exchange were transferred to Hongkong.

Events in Palestine and the struggle for Jewish independence now became a central concern for the Jewish community. The core of the I.Z L. organization which was affiliated to Betar and Revisionist groups, had been established in Shanghai in 1946. Members of the old Jewish community and the refugees comprised two separate groups within this organization, but they had one common aim of driving the British Army out of Eretz Israel. Mrs. Yehudit Ben-Eliezer (the leader), Jack Liberman, Tony Gaberman and Maurice Cohen (know as Two-Gun Cohen) were some of the initial organizers, followed later by Aryeh Marinsky, Shmuel Muller and others. The main center for training, learning about Eretz Israel, etc. was somewhere in the French Concession, the building and compound being provided by Edward Nissim, a prominent member of the Sephardi community. Quite a number of the members in the I.Z.L. were from the Sephardi community.

Some of the boys who had I.Z.L. training, flew during September 1948 on a Dutch airline to Marseilles and finally arrived in Israel where they participated in fighting the Egyptians in the Negev. The Dutch cancelled other flights after discovering that the passengers' final destination was Israel which had proclaimed independence on May 15th, 1948. Nevertheless, the I.Z.L. did not give up. The organization abroad bought two ships of the Liberty class - the Pan York and the Pan Crescent. The Pan York was renamed the Wooster Victory, and was the first ship to sail from Shanghai to Israel. It left on December 25th 1948 with 852 passengers, many of them I.Z.L. members. The ship carried an Italian crew and sailed under a Panamanian flag. It stopped in Singapore, Cape Town, Dakar and then to Marseilles where the passengers were transferred to the Israeli ship, Negba which took on some immigrants before arriving at Haifa port on February 14th, 1949.

Not long after, the second boat made a similar route and brought more Jews from China - mainly from Shanghai, Tientsin, Harbin and Peking - to Israel. The majority of the Jewish community left Shanghai during 1948-1949 and about 20% of them came to Israel. There were very few Jews in Shanghai after 1950. The Jewish population in Shanghai at the end of the Pacific War had numbered 32,000 - 35,000. By March 1949 Shanghai was controlled by the Communist Regime and the core of the Chinese Nationalist Army fled to Taiwan (Formosa). Foreign properties, buildings, businesses, etc. were confiscated. Those who had made early arrangements to leave before the Communists took over, did well. Many lost all they had and some were lucky to be allowed to leave.

The Shanghai Jewish Community had been founded in 1844 and one could say that a little over century later there were hardly any Jews there. One must thank the Chinese people for being a very tolerant and never anti-Semitic.

Jews had first settled in China about 1000 years ago and lived mainly in Kaifeng which was at one time the capital of China. They were mostly merchants coming from Persia who had obtained permission from the Chinese Emperor to settle there temporarily because they were unable to return to their homeland while war was raging in China at the time. Since this continued for many years these merchants finally intermarried with Chinese women and taught their children the Jewish religion and prayers. A synagogue was built in Kaifeng in 1183. But by the early 20th century the colony had dwindled down to only a small number of descendants still conscious of their Jewish origins. A graveyard with monuments engraved in Hebrew lettering and a few Torah scrolls and other Hebrew scripts were discovered.

An interesting chapter on Chinese Jewry has come to a close. Yet since the 1980's many Jews who formerly lived in Shanghai began to return there for a walk down memory lane. Former Shanghailanders can be found today in all the continents of the world, and they still keep in touch for nostalgic reasons and occasionally hold reunions. The spirit and experiences of the refugees who had lived in the Hongkew district is still fresh in their memories.

The Hongkew Chronicle, a quarterly periodical, was published in California until recent years and recorded episodes and pictures of their Shanghai life and experiences. It helped to create contacts and to forge a strong link between those who had once lived in Shanghai. In Israel, the Bulletin published by Igud Yotzei Sin - the Association of Former Residents of China - has kept the members of the Russian Jewish Community in Israel and abroad in close touch with each other over the decades.

Today there is a new Jewish community of about 200-300 persons in Shanghai created mainly by American, European and Israeli organizations and businessmen. Prayers are held on Jewish festivals and community life is thriving again. As for the old community, reunions will no doubt continue into the 21st century and the saga of the Jews in Shanghai will continue to retain an important place in Jewish history.