posted 2 Apr 2017, 01:11 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin

20170322: Shanghai, Japan

Last week, we ended with Japan becoming an unlikely safe haven for the Jewish refugees running from the Holocaust.
By the end of 1941, an estimated 23,000 Jews resided in Shanghai Ghetto, as the Japanese authorities wanted to consolidate the Jews living in the empire. (Memo for those whose knowledge of war history needs a little brushing-up… that is, all of us: Shanghai was part of the so-called “State of Manchuria”; Chinese territory occupied by Japan between 1931 and 1945.)
The Japanese, while no strangers themselves to horrible atrocities towards people of conquered lands and hostile states, could not really fathom the desire of Germany to murder its own citizens.
And so, in the early 40s Nazi Germany was growing increasingly exasperated with prolonged refusal of the Japanese to commit to the “final solution”. In April ’41, they sent here Josef Meisinger, the notorious Butcher of Warsaw (a man who nearly got kicked out of the Gestapo for cruelty. No, seriously.) as a special emissary to Shanghai in hope to convince the authorities to review their misplaced pity for the subhuman race.
Meisinger made two extermination proposals, happily offering to the Japanese to implement either plan. At the suggestion of the Foreign Affairs minister, Yosuke Matsuoka, who was a zealous nationalist and enthusiastic supporter of alliance with the Third Reich but took pronounced exception to anti-Semitism, the authorities asked that the Jewish community delegate representatives to present its side.
The two rabbis chosen for the task were Rabbi Moishe Shatzkes, a great Litvak scholar that came to Shanghai with Mir, the only Yeshivah to escape the Holocaust; and Rabbi Shimon Sholom Kalish, the shrewd Rebbe of Amshinov-Otvotsk.
The two emissaries faced the high imperial committee in Tokyo. As the story goes (no researcher I met was able to either verify or disprove its authenticity), when the Japanese governor asked the Rabbis why did Germans hate them so much, Rb. Kalish said to the translator without hesitation: Zugim weil mir sennen Orientalen, tell him it's because we are Asians. Be the anecdote true or not (it only gained wide popularity in the later years, thanks to Warren Kozak's book "The Rabbi of 84th Street: The Extraordinary Life of Haskel Besser"), the Jews were assured of the ongoing Japanese protection, and enjoyed such throughout the war.

Mind you, none of that would have happened without interference of such Righteous Among Nations as Chiune Sugihara, Jan Zwartendijk, Tadeusz Romer, and Ho Feng-Shan (if you don't know these names, look them up. You really should), and who knows how many others who remained unknown, as some of the above had for many years to follow.
This stone established in the neighbourhood commemorates the Jewish refugees in the Hongkou quarter of Shanghai.

A tribute to the local Chinese residents whose life was anything but easy yet who accepted the Jews and helped them pull through the war, is also in the acknowledgement embroidery on the Ark' curtain in Synagogue Ohel Moshe (inactive now, serves as a museum of the Shanghai Ghetto, state-run).

The riveting account of the narrow escape of the Holocaust refugees drew attention to the history of the Jews of Shanghai. Yet it was only the last of three waves of the Jewish settlement here, the first two largely ignored by the public; unfairly so, as they are no less fascinating.

First Jewish settlement began here in the 1840s. Those were wealthy Jewish merchants in Baghdad, attracted by the free trade first in cotton, then opium. Oh, were you only here with me! The things I could show and tell you. The great art deco Peace hotel, originally built by the powerful Sassoon merchant dynasty of Baghdadi Jews who came here in the mid-19th century, first as cotton traders, then as opium makhers/machers.
Peace hotel.JPG

The Kadoorie clan (whose current Tai-Pan Sir Michael Kadoorie has a piece of every pie in Hong Kong and is the grandson of Sir Elly Kadoorie, a great Shanghai philanthropist and human rights activist who started off working for the Sassoon empire but had a falling out with his supervisor over the way the Chinese employees were treated in the company);
The amazing Sallah Hardoon who rose by the merit of hard work and razor-sharp mind from rags to riches as a rent collector and became wealthiest, and the most generous, benefactor of the Jewish community in Shanghai, establishing the magnificent Beit Aharon synagogue. The Synagogue served as the Mir Yeshivah academy during the war, and was sadly razed to the ground in 1985 (no, antisemitism played no part in that decision; in Shanghai, everything is about business).

The Baghdadi Jews were very well established here by the time the first Russian Jews showed up in the early 20th c. escaping the Czar's army, the pogroms, the black hundreds/armed bands of monarchists. They didn’t have the luxury of carefully planning their move, and did not have the means to become major businessmen. This was an immigration of academia; they established themselves as doctors, teachers, writers, pharmacists - and also bakers, tailors and shoemakers.

This battered building with an art deco facade was a Jewish-owned cinema starting in the 20's, with another Jewish family running a cafe in the lobby of the theatre.

Shanghai waterfront.JPG
Shanghai is a very western city. Culturally, historically, architecturally, economically; in every way possible. It is so western it even has a Chinatown! Of course, if you want to learn firsthand about the Jews that existed in China for a thousand years, perhaps more, you'll have to come with me all the way to Kaifeng...
But that is another story altogether.

Shabbat Shalom,