Jewish Shanghai

During WWII the Archbishop of Canterbury lobbied the UK government to let Jewish refugees into the country before the onslaught of Nazi Germany would cause thousands of families to be sent off to concentration camps. Many were accepted but many more were refused with the exception of the kindertransport mission. Indeed few governments across the globe were prepared to allow a flow of migrants, especially at a time of economic hardship. But there was one government and one city in particular that welcomed ships of refugees to their shores. That city was Shanghai.

Over 30,000 men, women and children escaped to the East on ships set-off from Italy across the globe. The journey took them below the tip of Africa and past India on its route to the Eastern shores of China. There was momentary refuge for these Jewish families in Shanghai as the Japanese were soon to round them up into a Ghetto in the Hongkou district, where the memorial museum stands today.

Documentaries and personal documents tell of how people survived and interacted in the Ghetto area, policed by the Japanese. Michael Blumenthal was one such Shanghai resident who went on to become the U.S. Treasury Secretary.

Nanjing Road

It was surprising, but today I got a dose of more traditional, commercial communism. Department stores with rented-out sections reminded me of communist Russian shops. Nanjing street was not the force of commercialism I had perhaps expected, but it enlarged my perspective of shopping in Shanghai. There is clearly huge demand, hundreds of people filtered through clothing stores to pick their favourite t-shirt or pair of shorts. A stroll to the end of Nanjing Street takes one to People’s Square, at the epicentre of metro activity.

Yet Shanghai is not all riches and glam. From the overground metro I took this picture, showing more shanty-town constructs even in the heart of the city…

Shanty Shanghai

The evening ended with an all-you-can-eat meal at a Japanese restaurant beside the hotel. A Kiwi with his tall Chinese wife told us a few (expat) truths. He spoke of how the Chinese children study six days a week and have tests on the seventh, how in-laws live with the partner after a marriage and how incredibly difficult it is to learn the language.

And with that the Shanghai chapter ends. Tomorrow involves an early trip to Guilin. On the TV Hillary Clinton has just visited China and has spoken of dealing with the debt problem in the USA and three officials from China railway have been sacked after a fatal collision involving high-speed trains.

But tomorrow will bring more of historic China to life.

3 thoughts on “Jewish Shanghai

  1. Pingback: Jewish Shanghai « The Future of Journalism

  2. Thanks for the reply. It was interesting to read the LA Times article – and there is a wealth of information on at the JTA archive – more than 67 pages worth! The guide we had was a non-religious Chinese young man and didn’t know much about the community in China today or more information about the memorial project. The tour was very focused on the role of Shanghai during WWII but did not discuss matters relating to post-war pressure by communist authorities for Jewish people still living in Shanghai to move out (which is not surprising). Thank you for the links: http://shanghaijewishmemorial.com/ is certainly a site to read up on.

    It seems the exhibition didn’t make any effort or at least I wasn’t given the impression that many Jewish people were forced to emigrate in 1951 and numbers dwindled to as low as 294 in China as of June 30, 1958 according to Information from the Council of the Jewish Community in Shanghai.

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