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Jews in Shanghai Collection

Identifier: AR 2509

Scope and Content Note

The Jews in Shanghai Collection contains documentation of Jewish refugees in Shanghai, narratives of their personal experiences and general and academic articles on the Shanghai Jewish Community and the history of Jews in China. The collection includes original and photocopied documents of individuals, memorabilia, newspaper clippings, articles, dissertations, lecture texts, notes, lists of former Shanghai refugees, a few photographs and information on archival holdings at other institutions related to Shanghai Jews. Much of the collection consists of photocopied documents.

Documentation on the Shanghai Jewish Community and on individuals will be found in Series I. Such material is composed of copies of official documentation such as identity cards and vaccination certificates, but also includes a few copies of personal letters and a copy of a boy's scouting logbook. In addition it includes correspondence of B'nai B'rith, the Committee for Assistance of European Jewish Refugees in Shanghai and the American Joint Distribution Committee relating to immigration and refugee assistance. This series also holds papers from a scrapbook for the Shanghai Musicians Association of Stateless Refugees.

The stories of individuals' experiences in Shanghai will primarily be found in Series III, in the form of articles, newspaper clippings, lecture notes and an interview. These include narratives from wealthier members of society, such as businessman William Shurtman who arrived in Shanghai in 1931, as well as of later arrivals who were often less fortunate. Some of the lectures in Series II also mention personal experiences.

Series III additionally holds a large amount of articles on the history and development of the Shanghai Jewish Community. Among the topics discussed are the origins of the community prior to the Holocaust, the large wave of immigration following Nazi persecution and its effect on the community, the work of refugee aid organizations, the establishment of the ghetto in Hongkew (Hongkou), and the relationship between the Japanese occupation administration and the Jewish refugees. A smaller amount of articles on the Shanghai Community are present in the conference materials of Series II.


  • 1933-2002

Language of Materials

The collection is in English, German, Chinese, Hebrew and a very small amount of Italian.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Historical Note

Shanghai became a haven for Jews fleeing Nazi persecution because until August 1939 the International Settlement of the city required no visa, financial affidavits or other documents. These refugees became known as "Shanghailanders."

A Jewish community had already existed in the city with the arrival of Sephardic Jews from Baghdad, India and Hong Kong beginning in the mid-1800s. By 1930, their population was estimated to be around 1,000 individuals; many of the Sephardim were well-off economically and owned businesses with some possessing British citizenship. They had two synagogues, a cemetery, a school, a newspaper and in 1934 established the Shanghai Jewish Hospital. Shanghai also had a community of around 10,000 Russian Jews who had emigrated following the Russian Revolutions.

German Jews began emigrating to Shanghai in 1933. In August 1937 the Japanese occupied Shanghai. Due to the increased persecutions by the Nazis in Europe and the annexations of Austria and Czechoslovakia, immigration had swelled by 1939 (estimates vary from about 13,000 to 18,000 refugees). The financial restrictions imposed on Jewish immigrants from Germany meant that many reached Shanghai nearly destitute and several agencies were established to aid the new arrivals, in addition to aid from abroad from organizations such as the American Joint Distribution Committee and others. Most of the refugees settled in the area of Shanghai called Hongkew (Hongkou) due to its lower rents and prices, where refugee housing was established (called "Heime").

The refugees received much support from the Jewish residents already in Shanghai. The Committee for Assistance of European Jewish Refugees in Shanghai (often called the Speelman Committee) was founded to organize funds to house, clothe and feed refugees and the Beth Aharon synagogue became a reception center and soup kitchen. In 1939, Victor Sassoon, a prominent businessman in the community, established the Embankment Fund, which loaned funds to refugees, allowing them to set up businesses of their own to support themselves; he also donated premises for a Refugee Thrift Shop and housing. In June of that year the Shanghai Jewish Youth Association was begun (formerly the Kadoorie School), which provided education and recreation for the children.

Many of the refugees supported themselves by selling their possessions or by becoming peddlers. Other established small businesses, including tailors, milliners, grocers, and coffeehouses, along with doctors and dentists. Some small factories produced European-style foods. The Shanghai Jewish Community had several newspapers as well sports and cultural organizations such as the Shanghai Musicians' Association.

In August 1939 some immigration restrictions began to be imposed on Jewish immigrants. In June of 1940 Italy, from whose ports most ships left for Shanghai, declared war, and the immigration from Europe significantly waned. Thereafter the only route left to immigrants to Shanghai was via Lithuania, across the Soviet Union and Siberia by way of Korea or Japan, a route which was cut off the following year when Germany invaded the Soviet Union and the war intensified in the Pacific.

On November 15, 1942, the idea of a restricted ghetto was approved, and announced on February 18, 1943. All stateless refugees who had arrived after 1937 were restricted to a designated area in Hongkew (Hongkou) now called the "Restricted Section for Stateless Refugees." The economic situation for many worsened since they could not leave the section without a pass, often difficult to acquire from the Japanese official Kano Ghoya, of the Stateless Refugees' Affairs Bureau, who termed himself the "King of the Jews."

The ghetto was liberated on September 3, 1945. Most refugees left during the late 1940s, many for the United States or Israel.


0.75 Linear Feet


The Jews in Shanghai Collection contains an assortment of original and photocopied documentation of Jews in Shanghai during the 1930s and 1940s. In addition it includes an abundance of personal narratives, newspaper clippings and scholarly articles on this subject as well as on the origins of the Jewish Community in Shanghai.

Other Finding Aid

Four catalog cards describe a few items in the collection.

Related Material

The LBI Library, Archives and Memoir Collection contain many books, archival collections and memoirs that relate individuals' experiences in Shanghai. The collections of the YIVO Archives, also located at the Center for Jewish History, also hold many materials on the Shanghai Jewish Community. For further information researchers should consult the online catalog.

Separated Material

Photocopies of documents already in the collection were removed during processing.

Processing Information

The collection was reprocessed in May 2013. Documents were arranged by type of material, topic and author.

Guide to the Jews in Shanghai Collection 1933-2002 AR 2509
Processed by Dianne Ritchey
© 2013
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from Jews_in_Shanghai.xml

Revision Statements

  • April 01, 2015 : dao links added by Emily Andresini.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States