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Harbin, China

HARBIN (Chinese: Ha örl pin), the capital of Heilung Kiang Province, in N. Manchuria, China. The modern development of Harbin began at the close of the 19th century, with the beginning of the Russian penetration of Manchuria. When Russia was granted the concession to build the Chinese Eastern Railway under the Russo-Manchurian treaty of 1898, Harbin became its administrative center with a 30-mi. (50 km.)-wide zone along the railway. In the same year, a number of Russian Jewish families went to Harbin with the official consent of the czarist government, which was interested in speedily populating the area, and which, consequently, granted them a better status than that of the Jews in Russia. Among the first Jews were F.I. Rif, the brothers Samsonovich, and E.I. Dobisov. Along with other minority groups (such as Karaites), the Jews were granted plots of land on the outskirts of the town. Not being allowed to work directly on the railway, they were active as shopkeepers and contractors.

By 1903 a self-administered Jewish community existed in Harbin, numbering 500 Jews. After the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, many demobilized Jewish soldiers settled in Harbin, followed by refugees from the 1905–07 pogroms. By 1908 there were 8,000 Jews in the city, and a central synagogue was built in 1909. Several institutions came into being within the community, including clubs, a home for the aged, and a hospital providing care for all other nationalities as well. A ḥeder was established in Harbin in 1907 and a Jewish secondary school (Yevreyskaya Gimnaziya) in 1909, which had 100 pupils in 1910. However, 70% of the Jewish pupils attended non-Jewish schools, because a numerus clausus did not exist for Jews in Harbin. The influx of Jewish refugees during World War I, the Russian Revolution (1917), and the Russian civil war sharply increased the Jewish community, which reached its peak – 10,000–15,000 – in the early 1930s. It numbered about 5,000 in 1939. A Jewish National Bank was established in Harbin in 1923 as well as a Jewish library. Between 1918 and 1930 about 20 Jewish newspapers and periodicals were also established. All were in Russian except the Yiddish Der Vayter Mizrekh, appearing three times a week with a circulation of 300 in 1921–22. The Russian-language weekly Yevreyskaya Zhizn ("Jewish Life", which until 1926 was called Sibir-Palestina) appeared from 1920 to 1940 with a circulation throughout Manchuria and North China. The Zionist movement, led by Abraham Kaufman, and several youth clubs played a major part in the life of the community. Until 1921 Harbin Zionists were affiliated to the Russian and Siberian Zionist Organization and participated in their conferences. When Zionism was outlawed in the Soviet Union, Harbin became an island of Russian-language Zionism. In the years from 1924 to 1931 the Soviet regime, largely preoccupied with internal problems, exercised only limited influence on Manchurian territory. During this time the Jews of Harbin enjoyed the same rights as all other foreigners, and were left alone to prosper. However, in 1928, when the Chinese Eastern Railway was handed over to the Chinese, an economic crisis broke out and many Jews left Harbin, some to the Soviet Union, others to Shanghai, Tientsin, etc. This situation changed drastically for the worse when Manchuria came under Japanese occupation (1931–45). The treatment of Jews became even more oppressive in World War II when the Japanese now allied with Nazi Germany and somewhat influenced by Russian right-wing emigrés adopted an antisemitic policy in some respects. Under Japanese rule, Jewish national life was kept alive by Zionist youth movements, particularly *Betar and *Maccabi , which organized Jewish cultural activities. Betar, which was the strongest Zionist youth organization, published a Russian-language magazine, Ha-Degel ("The Flag"). Until 1950 four synagogues existed in Harbin. Many Jews left Manchuria before the outbreak of World War II, for the U.S., Australia, Brazil, and other countries. During 1945–47, Harbin was under Soviet occupation, and Jewish community leaders were then arrested and sent to the Soviet interior. About 3,500 of the former "Chinese" Jews, most of them from Harbin, live in Israel, where they play an active role in all walks of life.


I. Cohen, Journal of a Jewish Traveller (1928), 160–81; H. Dicker, Wanderers and Settlers in the Far East (1962), index; Yevreyskaya zhizn, nos. 3–4 (1939); N. Robinson, Oyfleyzing fun di Yidishe Kehiles in Khine (1954); S. Rabinowitz, in: Gesher, 2 (1957), 121–68. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Z. Schickman-Bowman, "The Construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway and the Origins of the Harbin Jewish Community 1898–1931," in; J. Goldstein (ed.), The Jews of China: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (1999).

[Rudolf Loewenthal and

Noah W. Dragoon]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.