Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Encyclopedia Judaica: Shanghai

SHANGHAI, port in Kiangsu province, E. China. It was opened to foreign trade in 1843. A flourishing foreign community developed there, including Jews of various nationalities. They were mostly Sephardim from Baghdad, Bombay, and Cairo, including such well-known families as *Sassoon , *Kadoorie , Hardoon, *Ezra , Shamoon, and Baroukh. There were three synagogues in Shanghai, and between 1904 and 1939, 12 Jewish magazines in English, German, and Russian were founded there. The leading one was Israel's Messenger, a Zionist monthly established in 1904 by N.E.B. Ezra and published until his death in 1936. Before World War I the Jewish population numbered around 700, with 400 Sephardim of Baghdad origin, 250 Europeans, and 50 Americans. Most of them were engaged in commerce, while a few were in the diplomatic service and in medicine or teaching. Their number was substantially increased to around 25,000, first by Jews from Russia fleeing from the 1917 Revolution, then between 1932 and 1940 by refugees from Nazism in Germany and German occupied countries who found out that they could enter the free port of Shanghai without visas.

Between 1933 and 1941, Shanghai accepted approximately 18,000 Jewish refugees who fled from the horror of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. Of these Jewish refugees, 14,000 lived in the “Designated Area for Stateless Refugees,” located in Tilanquiao Square, along with other refugees from all over the world. The Tilanquiao historic area is still very much alive today, and the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum provides important insights into the area's Jewish past. The museum offers daily free tours every 45 minutes.

The Japanese closed Shanghai to further immigration and after the outbreak of the Pacific war in December 1941 they deported to Shanghai most of the Jews living in Japan or in transit to other countries. Substantial aid was given locally, especially by Sir Victor Sassoon, Horace Kadoorie, and Paul Komor. Additional funds came from abroad. With the outbreak of the Pacific war, the position of all Jews became desperate. Most of them were kept in semi-internment under miserable conditions in the *Hongkew district, subject to the whim of the Japanese occupation forces. They had great difficulty in finding employment, and most of their property was confiscated under one pretext or another. Almost all of them left Shanghai after World War II, largely with American help, for Israel, the United States, or other parts of the world. A few elderly people remained to live out their days under the Chinese Communists.

The Ohel Moshe Synagogue was built by Russian Jews in the 1920's and has been integrated as a part of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. The Synagogue is one of the few Synagogues to have existed in Shanghai. During World War II the Synagogue served as a a meeting place for the Jewish community. Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited the Synagogue in 1994, and took time to thank the people of Shanghai for their humanitarian actions during the second World War. In 2007 the Synagogue underwent a full remodel based on the original 1928 design, which was completed on schedule. The original design for the Synagogue is displayed on the first floor, the second floor includes videos and a database to search for Jewish refugees, and the third floor hosts an exhibit titled “German Nazi Death Camps - Auschwitz.” The permanent exhibit at the Museum houses over 140 high-quality photographs and a multi-screen projection area showing a short film about the refugees who lived in the area. A new museum exhibit opened in August 2015, including historical materials and testimony from refugees who took shelter in Shanghai. Construction began in 2015 on a replica of the White Horse Inn, a popular gathering place for the Jewish community that was destroyed in 2009. Plans are also being made to open a memorial park that will serve to replace the four Jewish cemeteries in Shanghai that over the years were damaged or destroyed. The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum has hosted many events over the years, including the China-Israel Friendship Pictures Exhibit, and the launch ceremony of the Jews in Shanghai Database. The permanent exhibit, Jewish Refugees and Shanghai, has travelled all over the globe to places including Berlin, Hamburg, Haifa, Jerusalem, and the United States.

Hebrew Printing

Apart from J.J. Sulaiman's Kunteres Seder ha-Dorot (1921), the main period of Hebrew printing in Shanghai was during World War II and immediately after (1940–46), when remnants of Lithuanian yeshivot (Mir, Slobodka), as well as Lubavitch Ḥasidim, found refuge in Shanghai and printed – mostly photostatically – rabbinic, ethical, and ḥasidic works in limited editions for their own use. To the 80 items enumerated by Z. Harkavy (in Ha-Sefer, no. 9, 1961, 52–3; Hashlamot le-Mafte'aḥ ha-Mafteḥot (by S. Shunami, 1966), 3–4) have to be added – at least – the above work by J.J. Sulaiman and S. Elberg's Akedat Treblinka (Yid., 1946). Hebrew newspapers were printed in Shanghai as early as 1904.


A. Ginsbourg, Jewish Refugees in Shanghai (Shanghai, 1940); A. Sopher, Chinese Jews (Shanghai, 1926); H. Dicker, Wanderers and Settlers in the Far East (1962), index; YIVO, Catalogue of the Exhibition "Jewish Life in Shanghai" (1948); A. Mars, in: JSOS, 31 (1969), 286–91.

[Rudolf Loewenthal]

Source: Shanghai Municipal Tourist Administration, “The Jews in Shanghai” (December 2012)
Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.