In 1933, Jewish refugees began to escape to Shanghai from Germany and, later, from Nazi-occupied and Nazi-allied countries. The massive influx ended when Shanghai was cut off from the outside world by the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Between 1933 and 1941 it is estimated that at least 18,000 Jews went to Shanghai. To some extent, “Shanghai” became synonymous with “Rescue” and “Haven” in the history of the Holocaust.
The Nazis and their collaborators not only attempted to annihilate European Jews, but also menaced Jewish communities outside the continent, including those in China. In July 1942, Colonel Josef Albert Meisinger, chief representative of the Gestapo to Japan, arrived in Shanghai and proposed their “Final Solution“ to the Japanese authorities. Although his request was not put into effect, the Japanese authorities proclaimed a “Designated Area for Stateless Refugees” in Hongkou District (formerly called “Hongkew”) in Shanghai, and forced all Jewish refugees into this area. The pressure from Nazi Germany and the change of the Japanese authorities‘ policy towards the Jewish community in Shanghai to persecution put the Jewish refugees and the preexisting Jewish communities in Shanghai into a great danger. Ultimately, however, almost all Jewish refugees in Shanghai survived the Holocaust and the war, due mostly to their own mutual help and the great support from the Jews all around the world. The tolerance and help from the Chinese people also played an important role. After the war, most of the Jewish refugees went to the United States, Australia, Israel and Canada.
The history of Jewish refugees in Shanghai is unusual. Together, Chinese people and Jewish refugees defended themselves from Fascist atrocity – during the Pacific war, Nazi-allied Japan invaded China – and demonstrated the essential dignity of the human race. They showed love and care for each other and supported each other through adversity. This experience has created a special emotional bond between the Chinese and Jewish peoples.
In 2007, funded by the Hongkou District People’s Government, the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue was renovated and turned into the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. The Museum, which includes a great abundance of historical records, is now serving as witness to the history of Jewish Refugees in Shanghai. It has received more than 200,000 visitors from nearly 90 foreign countries and regions.
The year of 2017 marks the 72nd anniversary of the World Anti-fascist War. And for this special occasion we, in collaboration with the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, have planned and designed this travelling exhibition in Europe. We hope to take this opportunity to review this particular episode of history together with the former Shanghai Jewish refugees, their families and the friends in Europe who are interested in this history. This is an exhibition about love and tolerance. It offers viewers a better understanding of this period in history and the Chinese people. The exhibition is also a warning to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future.