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The articles in this issue have been divided upinto the following categories







Colorful Jewish community contributed much to Shanghai


One of the most interesting chapters in Shanghai's history was the growth of a vibrant Jewish community last century - exiles who found refuge in the city from hardship, war and persecution.

Generally, the Jews who came to Shanghai were Sephardic Jews (Jews of Spanish or Portuguese descent) Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of Eastern European ancestry) and Western European Jews.

The most conspicuous group was Sephardic Jews, who were among the first foreign traders to come to the city. Initially, they traded in cotton and similar goods and then became involved in the opium trade.

Their business interests also extended to other areas including real estate, banking, shipping and utilities. Their success was helped by their being able to maximise family ties with international Jewish communities.

Many Sephardic Jews had came to Shanghai from British-controlled areas like Baghdad, Bombay and Hong Kong.

Well-known Sephardic families included the Sassoons, the Hardoons and the Kadoories.

David Sassoon was one of Shanghai's most famous citizens. Sassoon was one the first major Jewish traders in China. Born in 1875, from a family of well-known Baghdad Jews, he had come to Shanghai from Bombay.

As David Kranzler says in his book Japanese, Nazis & Jews: the Jewish Refugee Community in Shanghai the city offered great opportunities to people of David Sassoon's entrepreneurial abilities.

"The advantages of Shanghai as an open city, with all that that implied did not escape the sharp eye of many an incoming merchant, including that of David Sassoon. Trade in opium, tea and silk made wealthy tycoons of many petty merchants in the course of the nineteenth century. An enormous trade developed in Shanghai. Which by the 1930s had become one of the largest ports in The world.

The firm, Dave Sassoon & Company was soon involved in to cotton trade and began trading in opium in the early 1830s. After the Opium War ended in 1842, his company moved its headquarters to Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Historian Betty Peh T'l Wei says in Old Shanghai that after 1871, David Sassoon controlled the opium market in Shanghai, ''but nevertheless, the family had gained sufficient influence and power for his elder brother Abdullah Sassoon, who had remained to supervise the family's business in Bombay, to become a member of the Bombay Legislative council.

Perhaps the most famous member of Shanghai's Sassoon family in the 20th century was Sir Victor Sassoon - who became the chairman of the company, E D Sassoon.

One of the city's leading property developers in the 1930s, he was responsible for the construction of buildings such as Broadway
Mansions, Embankment House, and the Cathay Hotel - one of Asia's
finest hotels.

"Sir Victor Sassoon cut a large figure in Shanghai society, headily indulging his appetite for parties good food, women, and horses'' says Stella Dong in Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City. Horseracing was a consuming passion of Sir Victor, who once remarked: "There is only one race greater than the Jews and that is the Derby.''

Sir Victor walked with the aid of two sticks as the result of injuries in the First World War, where he had served in the Royal Flying Corps. He frequently claimed he would never marry "as nobody would ever marry me except for my money and position". However, shortly before his death he married his nurse.

British-born Sir Victor deeply resented the anti-Semitism of many of the British living in Shanghai. Jews, for example, were forbidden to join the
British Country Club. Consequently, Shanghai's Jewish Community established a Jewish Country Club on property owned by the Kadoorie family.

The Kadoorie family was a major force in Shanghai Jewish life; one of their most famous members was Ely Kadoorie. He began his career with David Sassoon in 1880 before launching his own businesses and making a fortune from banking, real estate and rubber production. The Kadoorie family now live in Hong Kong where they are well-known for their contribution to business and charity work.

The richest man in Shanghai by the time of his death in 1931 was Silas Hardoon. Like David Sassoon, he had been born in Baghdad and was a brilliant businessman. Hardoon made his fortune through property investments and was elected to the Municipal Council of the International Settlement. He took the unconventional step of marrying a Eurasian woman, named Luo Jialing, and the couple adopted Chinese and Eurasian children. He also developed a strong interest in Buddhism.

"The Hardoon's opulent lifestyle", says Betty Peh T'l Wei, "was particularly noted with the Aili Garden designed to be in the grand style of traditional Chinese gardens, boasting also a temple and a school. After the fall of the Ch'ing dynasty in 1911, it was said that the Hardoons assumed the lifestyle of the court by entertaining impoverished imperial concubines and employing eunuchs as retainers.

Shanghai's Ashkenazi community' was mostly Russian as well as some Lithuanian Jews. Unlike the Sephardic Jews they tended to run smaller businesses. Many were engaged in exporting and importing, but they also produced professional people and some prominent musicians.

Former Shanghai resident Yaacov Liberman notes in My China: Jewish Life in the Orient 1900-1950 that the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities were quite distinct from one another. ''Even in 1941, two autonomous Jewish community structures were fully operative in Shanghai... the two communities rarely united in any joint exerts, with the exception of aiding the absorption of thousands of refugees from Hitler's Europe".

Liberman says religious life for the Jews in Shanghai was mainly limited to synagogue attendance on Holy Days and Bar Mitzvahs and weddings. (By 1920, Shanghai had two synagogues: the Ohel Rachel Synagogue and the Beth Aharon Synagogue).

Only a small percentage of the community was considered to be orthodox" he says. None of us knew much about either Reform or Conservative Judaism. However... most of us united with our fellow Jews in attending synagogue service on the High Holy days".
The contributions of Shanghai's Jews were many. Along with their impact on the city's business and cultural life, They had a significant impact on the media and publishing industries. From 1936 until 1946, there were more than 50 Jewish newspapers and magazines in the city publishing in a variety of languages including Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, English, Russian, German and French.

Many Jews who lived in Shanghai during this time have fond recollections of the city. Yaccov Liberman recalls that "the liveliest focus of Jewish activity was the Jewish Club of Shanghai. Although most members spent their time at the Club card tables, others enjoyed bowling, billiards, or snooker, table tennis, the Club's dining rooms and its library, as well as the musical and theatrical performances.

The rise of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany - which intensified in the late 1930s - forced a number of European and German Jews to seek refuge in Shanghai. Many came to the city because they had been denied access to other places and it did not require a visa or passport. Between 1931 and 1941, 20,000 Jews took refuge in the city.

The plight of the Jews attracted the attention of Dr Sun Yat-sen, the great Nationalist leader and founder of the Chinese Republic.

In a letter in 1920 to a leading member of the Shanghai Jewish community, Dr Sun wrote: "Iraqi lovers of democracy cannot help but support the movement to restore your wonderful and historic nation, which has contributed so much to the civilization of the world and which rightly deserves an honorable mention in the family of nations"

Over a decade later, as news of Hitler's persecution of the Jews spread, Dr Sun's wife, Song Ching Ling protested to the German Consul in Shanghai.

"Likewise, Shanghai Jews also gave firm support to the Chinese national-democratic movement and resistance against Japanese aggression" says Pan Guang, a historian with the China-Judiac Studies' Association.

"Hans Shippe, a writer and reporter from Germany, was the first Jewish volunteer to fall in battle on china's soil during her war against Japanese aggression." Other Jews, who supported Chinese nationalism, were Morris 'Two Gun' Cohen and Dr Jacob Rosenfield, who fought with the communists against the Japanese.

The Japanese occupied Shanghai in 1941. Despite their brutality to the Chinese, they generally did not persecute the Jews. Indeed, many Japanese were anxious to co-operate with them. Japan had been assisted by Jewish bankers providing them loans during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. Even the rise of anti-Jewish feeling in the 1930s and the popularity of anti-Semitic tracts, such at the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, did not turn the Japanese into Jew haters.

As David Kranzler explains: "The key to the distinction between the Japanese and European form of anti-semitism seems to lie in the long Christian tradition of identifying the Jew with the Devil, the Antichrist or someone otherwise beyond redemption.... The Japanese lacked this Christian image of the Jew and brought to their reading of the Protocols a totally different perspective. The Christian tried to solve the problem of the Jews by eliminating him; the Japanese tried to harness his alleged immense wealth and power to Japan's advantage".

The attitude of the Japanese to the Jews by in large was to treat them according to their nationalities - such as Germans, Poles and so on.

However, some Nazi agents followed the Jews to Shanghai in 1942 and tried to persuade the Japanese to build death camps on Chongming Island. But instead in 1943, the Japanese forced many Jews into a "Designated Area'' for stateless refugees in Hongkou. "in 1943, when special privileges enjoyed by foreigners in China came to an end as the unequal treaties of the 19th century were formally abrogated by agreement between China and the international powers, the Jewish population in Shanghai was estimated to number 25,000" says Betty Peh T'I Wei.

Nevertheless, the Jews in Shanghai felt little resentment towards the Japanese, according to historian Bernard Wasserstein. "The refugee Jews, while naturally anti-Nazi, were not particularly hostile to the Japanese - to whom many felt gratitude for affording them an escape hatch against Nazi Europe. In general, the Jews preserved an attitude of studied neutrality to the Far Eastern war" he adds.

After World War II ended in 1945, most of Shanghai's Jewish community left the city for Israel, the United States and other countries.

The Jews helped make Shanghai a more interesting place. They contributed much to the business and cultural life of the city and their relations with the Shanghainese were generally very good. Indeed, the Jews and the Chinese had many things in common. Both races belong to very old cultures, which emphasize hard work and the importance of education and the family. Like the Shanghainese, the Jews were also well known for their entrepreneurial flair. The Chinese and the Jews also experienced great suffering during this period: six million Jews died in the Nazi Holocaust and 35 million Chinese perished in the Sino-Japanese war.

While few Jews remained in Shanghai after World War II, Those that lived there looked back on their time in the city with great affection. Life had been happy and productive. Above all, Shanghai provided a lucky few with a lifeline.



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