Compassion, Boundaries, and War: Jewish Refugees in Shanghai

April 9, 2019

On Sunday, April 7, SICSA held a colloquium about Jewish refugees in Shanghai titled Compassion, Boundaries, and War. It included two fascinating lectures of Prof. Vera Schwarcz and Dr. Ran Shauli and was chaired by Ms. Qingwen Zhang, doctoral fellow at SICSA.


From 1933 to 1941, Shanghai accepted thousands European Jews who escaped from Nazi Persecution and the Holocaust. Excluding those who left Shanghai for other countries, by the time of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the city was sheltering 20,000 - 25,000 Jewish refugees. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Centre on Holocaust Studies, Shanghai took in more Jewish refugees than Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India combined. Like “Schindler”, “Wallenberg” and “Sugihara”, the name “Shanghai” has now become synonymous with “rescue” and “haven” in the annals of the Holocaust. 


The Jews who arrived in Shanghai came from various countries, of all ages and from different backgrounds. The Jewish refugees resided mainly in the Hongkou District. The Jewish refugees did their best to enrich their communal life and their surroundings. They opened schools, synagogues, theaters, and coffee shops. They also started a newspaper and established various sports teams. 


At the end of the war, most of the Jews left China and immigrated to Israel, the U.S and Australia. Among the Jewish refugees in Shanghai are such notable people such as former U.S Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal, renowned businessman Shaul Eisenberg and composer Otto Joachim.