Remembering Shanghai on Holocaust Memorial Day

Remembering Shanghai on Holocaust Memorial Day: China* was the only country helping the Jews, not Canada, US, Cuba and these countries send the Jews back to Germany to the death camp in WWII. 在大屠殺紀念日紀念上海:中國*是唯一幫助猶太人的大國, 而不是加拿大、美國、古巴和這些國家將猶太人送回德國二戰死亡集中營.

Yesterday, Jan 27th, was Holocaust Memorial Day. Some brief thoughts:

In 1938, in early July, a group of the representatives 32 countries met at Evian Les-Bain, France, to decide whether to let in Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.
The Jews had already been stripped of their citizenship by the Nuremberg Laws. Almost all of the Countries participating refused, not wanting, as the US representative put it, to “import a Jewish problem” to their own countries.

Only the tiny *Dominican Republic agreed to allow in Jewish refugees. (Zionist leaders like Ben Gurion also conspired to prevent entry in order to force open migration to Palestine). Again, in 1943, in the Bermuda conference, the US and the UK refused to allow entry of Jews.

In 1939, May 13, over 900 desperate Jewish passengers boarded the St. Louis from Hamburg to go to Cuba, where they were refused entry. They went to Miami, where they were again denied entry. Canada also denied entry. They eventually returned to Europe, where a large number of them would eventually perish in the Holocaust.

The world essentially became cleaved into two: countries forcing Jewish people out, and countries refusing to let them in.

During this horrific period, it’s also a fact that China became the only place on the planet that allowed continuous, open, unconditional sanctuary to fleeing Jews.

This was not an accident of history, but a result of China’s long cultural traditions: there were already vibrant 19C & 20C Jewish émigré communities in Tianjin, Shanghai, and Harbin, but even before that, for over thirteen hundred years, merchant Jews of Persian origin had traded and settled in China; synagogue communities were found all in all major port cities of China, including Hangzhou, Ningbo, Yangzhou, Ningxia, Guangzhou, Beijing, Quanzhou, Nanjing, Xi’an and Luoyang, and Kaifeng.

Seven Chinese family names can also be Jewish, Ai (艾), Shi (石), Gao (高), Jin (金), Li (李), Zhang (張), and Zhao (趙); “Jin” and “Shi” are, of course, Chinese translations of “Gold” and “Stone”. These Jewish communities also freely intermarried with Muslim communities, who also had a large, unfettered, and open presence in China.

In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that China, as a civilization state, pioneered the very concepts of diversity, inclusion and ecumenical, multi-religious tolerance and harmony–drawn from its traditional Confucian, Buddhist, and above all, Mohist traditions (with its concept of “inclusive/universal care (兼愛)”). This was at a time the European Christians were mercilessly subjecting Jews to violent pogroms and slaughtering Muslims wholesale.

Harvard Historian Simon Schama put it succinctly:

“To survey the predicament of Jews in much of the rest of the world is to marvel at what the Kaifeng community escaped. In China, Jews were not subjected to violence and persecution, not demonized as God killers. Their synagogues were not invaded by conversionary harangues. They were not physically segregated from non-Jews nor forced to wear humiliating forms of identification on their dress. They were not forced into the most despised and vulnerable occupations, not stigmatized as grasping and vindictive, and portrayed neither as predatory monsters nor pathetic victims.”

This inclusive care was also reflected, during the Holocaust, in the actions of Ho Feng Shan, a Chinese diplomat in Vienna is known to have issued 1000’s of visas to Jews in Austria. This allowed them to leave the country (whether they were going to China or not), thus saving their lives. He is sometimes referred to as the “Chinese Schindler”.

Shanghai itself was a genuine sanctuary for Jews:

Shanghai—already home to a few thousand Jewish immigrants who started slowly arriving as early as the mid-19th century for business or later to escape the Russian Revolution—not only did not require visas for entry, but issued them with alacrity to those seeking asylum. In many cases, newly arrived immigrants were not even asked to show passports. It was not until 1939 that restrictions were placed on Jewish immigrants coming into Shanghai and even then these limitations were decided not by the Chinese, but by the amalgam of foreign powers that controlled the city at the time. This body, made up both of Westerners and Japanese who wanted to restrict the influx of Jews, decided that anyone with a “J” on their passport would now have to apply in advance for landing permission…

Nevertheless, many of the Shanghai locals, in spite of their own hardships, welcomed their new neighbors and shared what little they had, whether that meant housing, medical care, or just simple kindness. Gradually, with that support, Jewish refugees began, little by little, to create lives in their new country, and before long, the proliferation of Jewish-owned businesses was such that the Hongkou area became known as “Little Vienna.” Like their Chinese neighbors, they did their best to survive in difficult circumstances. They established newspapers, synagogues, retail businesses, restaurants, schools, cemeteries, guilds, social clubs, and even beauty pageants. They practiced medicine, started hospitals, got married, had babies, and held bar and bat mitzvahs. They learned to cook in coal-burning ovens and to haggle with street vendors.

“If the [people of Shanghai] had not been so tolerant, our life would have been miserable,” Moses is quoted as saying. “In Europe, if a Jew escaped, he or she had to go into hiding, and here in Shanghai we could dance and pray and do business.”

Such camaraderie was key to maintaining the spirit of Shanghai’s Jewish community, many of whom still had family in mortal danger back in Europe. At a time when hopeful entrepreneurs from across the world looking to strike it rich had turned Shanghai from a humble fishing village into the world’s fifth-largest city, Tilanqiao didn’t offer Jewish refugees wealth or luxury, but something much more valuable: safety.

As we hear the extraordinary lies, slander, and propaganda perpetrated against the Chinese people and government in the current moment–that the Chinese are a threaten the global order and committing “genocide” against Muslims, as the US readies the world mentally for war against China–it’s important to remember these facts. The facts on the ground refute the lies and grounded as they are in millennia of tolerance, coexistence, and inclusivity.

More info:
Xièxiè, Shanghai!

The significance of Shanghai as a haven during the holocaust

Surviving the Holocaust in Shanghai
At 9 minute mark, the grand daughter of Feng Shan Ho, the “Chinese Schindler” tells his story:

Jewish and Chinese tell their stories

生命的记忆——犹太人在上海 (Partly English)

纳粹铁蹄下的生命使者——何凤山 (Chinese)

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