Skip to main content

Shanghai Collection

Identifier: RG 243

Scope and Content Note

The Shanghai collection documents the everyday life of Jewish refugees in Shanghai between 1939-1948. The newspaper clippings, personal correspondence (Series IV, V), and organizational records (Series I, II) provide insights in the actual lives of refugees. Together with posters and concert programs, as well as various forms, applications and identification documents, they evoke the experiences of the Shanghai refugee community during the war and afterwards. Most of the documents that relate to the political life in Shanghai originate in the post-war period. In addition, many artifacts, such as the arm-band of the Shanghai Vigilance Corps or badges the refugees had to wear when leaving the ghetto, are also part of the collection.

The memoirs of the educator and later principal of the Shanghai private business school, Wilhelm Deman, "The Lost Decade" in Series V, contribute to better comprehension of the experience in the refugee community in Shanghai as well. The manuscript of Manfred Rosenfeld provides researchers with a history of the Jewish population in Shanghai.


  • 1924-1950
  • Majority of material found within 1939-1948

Language of Materials

The collection is primarily in German, English, and Russian. Some documents are in French, Yiddish, Japanese, Chinese, Polish, and Lithuanian. Some items are annotated in Yiddish.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public. Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained in writing from the YIVO Archives.

Use Restrictions

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

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011 email:

Historical Note

Shanghai had a small number of Jewish inhabitants in the 19th century. These are said to have been mainly of Sephardic origin, from Baghdad and Egypt. After 1917 a number of Russian Jews made their way to the Far East, mainly to Tientsin (Tianjin), Harbin, and Shanghai. In 1932 the Ashkenazi Jewish Communal Association was established under the leadership of Rabbi Meyer Ashkenazi to represent the interests of Russian and later also Polish and Lithuanian Jews in Shanghai. Between 1904-1939 there were three synagogues in Shanghai.

After Kristallnacht of November 9, 1938 the "open city" of Shanghai became a relatively promising and hopeful destination for German and Austrian Jews. Because of the specific international status of the port of Shanghai the refugees did not need either a visa or passport to enter, just a boarding pass for a ship or a train across Siberia. Once in Shanghai German and Austrian refugees founded the Jewish Community of Central European Jews in 1939. In December 1946 the Community had a membership of 11,586 persons, a synagogue, two rabbis, 7 cantors, a school and Hebrew classes for adults.

Life in Shanghai certainly was not easy, but the refugees were able to continue their lives under relatively free conditions. The period of limited freedom ended after the Japanese administration issued "the Proclamation concerning Restrictions of Residence and Business of the Stateless Refugees" of February 18, 1943. The proclamation forced the refugees who arrived in Shanghai after 1939, i.e. mostly from Germany and Austria, into a ghetto. The law generally did not affect those Russian Jews who in their majority had come to Shanghai after the Bolshevik coup in 1917. This created some tension within the Shanghai Jewish population. Several Polish refugees tried to avoid confinement in the ghetto on the grounds that they were Polish citizens and not stateless refugees, but the Japanese administration disregarded their claims. Joseph Almintz, Berish Abramowitch, Alexander Alperson, Hirsh Proshker, and Theodore Finkelstein were put to death for their opposition.

According to the Bulletin of the Shanghai Ashkenazic Collaborating Relief Association (SACRA) No. 3 of April 30, 1943, there were 13,511 registered "stateless" émigrés from Germany and Austria, 1,234 from Poland, 212 from Czechoslovakia refugees, 167 from other countries, and 218 were not identified at that time.

After creation of the ghetto the Japanese administration initiated the Shanghai Ashkenazic Collaborating Relief Association (SACRA). SACRA was theoretically headed by the Russian Jews who were exempt from residence in the Ghetto, but was controlled de facto by the Japanese officials, namely Ghoya and the Director General of Japanese Bureau of Stateless Refugee Affairs Tsutomu Kubota.

However, the refugees tried to go on with their lives even in the difficult conditions of the ghetto. Various religious and cultural organizations attempted to ease the situation of the refugees. The ghetto was officially abolished in August 1945.

Life in liberated Shanghai was marked by the preparations for re-emigration and resettlement. By the end of March 1946 the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) registered 15, 511 displaced persons in Shanghai out of which 87% were Jews. Some refugees opted for Palestine and Israel, some returned to the countries of their origin and others decided to leave for the Americas, mostly the United States.

Cultural, Political, and Religious Life in Shanghai

There were several different educational institutions, a German radio program, press, bookstores and circulating libraries, theatre performances and concerts. An article in the English supplement of Undzer Lebn from May 19, 1944 lists 9 bookstores and private circulating libraries, all owned by German Jews: Das Gute Buch, Everyman's Library, Fahrender, Buecherwagen, Hermes, Lion Bookshop, Minerva Library, Nathan's Library, and Wright and Vogel. In addition to that, several organizations maintained their own libraries.

The oldest Jewish newspapers were Mevasser Yisrael (Israel's Messenger) in English (1904-1941) in Shanghai and Evreiskoe slovo, a monthly, in Russian, in Harbin (January-February 1918). The list of Jewish periodicals in Shanghai compiled by Usher Rozenbes for YIVO lists 46 periodicals, out of which 16 were published before 1937. The list is in folder 52. Among the most prominent newspapers in Shanghai were a weekly Undzer Lebn (Our Life), published in Russian and Yiddish since May 1941 and with an English supplement in 1942-1945; bi-weekly and later monthly Mevasser Yisrael published in English by the Zionist organization; bi-weekly and later daily Die Gelbe Post (The Yellow Post) in German; the weekly The Jewish Voice (earlier Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt, which was earlier Gemeindeblatt für die Jüdisches Kultus-Gemeinde published in German from (1939) 1940-1946; and the Shanghai Jewish Chronicle a weekly issued from May 5, 1939 to October 1945 when it turned into the daily Shanghai Echo.

The Shanghai rabbinate was founded in 1939. The rabbis and other religious representatives of refugees were organized in two associations, the Ihud Rabanim and the Kolel Kovno-Vilna with a combined membership of 80. There were six Jewish cemeteries in Shanghai overseen either by Chevra Kadisha or another burial society. The Shanghai Hebrew Relief Society and Shelter House, originally founded in 1916 by both Ashenazic and Sephardic Jews to support the poor, played an important role within the Shanghai refugee community. In 1943 Shelter House accommodated 47 people. The society also supported a kitchen that provided free meals for 300 people and meals at reduced prices for 100.

The origins of Zionist organization in Shanghai can be traced back to the Sephardic community that founded the first Zionist organization there in 1904. In 1939 the General Zionist Organization "Theodor Herzl" was founded. It had 1,686 members in 1941. Several other Zionist organizations were founded, but after the declaration of the Ghetto they all united into the Zionist Organization Shanghai (ZOS) in September 1943. After the war ended the movement split and several new organizations were established, as for instance The Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO), Poale Zion and others. The Jewish Labour Bund of Shanghai was founded in 1941 by Polish and Russian émigrés. Under the difficult conditions of the ghetto regime political activities often had to be disguised as cultural or religious events, since the Japanese authorities tried to suppress them.

YIVO Curatorial Activity and the exhibition in Shanghai in 1947

In the beginning of 1946, the Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO) in New York appealed to the refugees in Shanghai to gather materials for the YIVO Archives. A committee of Friends of YIVO, representing all sectors of Jewish life, was formed in Shanghai. In an appeal to the Jews of Shanghai, the committee stated:

"The Friends of YIVO appeal to you, Jews of Shanghai, Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and recent arrivals, to help us in our momentous task. Help us to compile the history of The Jews in Shanghai by gathering materials and documents, photographs and other objects reflecting our life in the Far East, our cultural, economic, religious and social achievements in Shanghai. Please bear in mind that every newspaper and photograph, the least note, seemingly trivial, is important to us. Bring it to us."

The Committee of Friends of YIVO displayed the items at an exhibition in Shanghai in October 1947, later in New York, together with documents and artifacts collected by the YIVO staff, and various later donations it has become the Shanghai Collection at YIVO.


5.5 Linear Feet


The collection relates to the life of Jewish refugees, mostly of German and Austrian origin, in Shanghai primarily between the years 1939-1948. It covers many aspects of their experience, including political and cultural events, relief and charity activities, and self-help. The collection originated from the YIVO exhibition that was organized and displayed in 1947 in Shanghai and later in New York. The collection consists of manuscripts, minutes of meetings, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and printed materials.


The collection is divided into seven series arranged by topic.

  1. Series I: Shanghai Ghetto, 1943-1945
  2. Series II: Communal Organizations and Activities, 1927-1948
  3. Subseries 1: General, 1932-1948
  4. Subseries 2: Cultural Activities, 1929-1947
  5. Subseries 3: Political Activities, 1930-1947
  6. Subseries 4: Relief Activities, 1931-1946
  7. Subseries 5: Religious Activities, 1927-1948
  8. Series III: Emigration, 1938-1948
  9. Series IV: Newspapers, 1935-1948
  10. Series V: Papers of Individuals, Personal Narratives and Memoirs, 1924-1950
  11. Series VI: Jewish Scientific Institute YIVO Curatorial Activity, 1946-1948
  12. Series VII: Posters and Broadsides, 1934-1947

Other Finding Aids

There is a catalogue to the exhibition "Jewish Life in Shanghai. September 1948 - January 1949."


At the suggestion of Usher Rozenbes, a cofounder and secretary of the Shanghai YIVO Committee, the Friends of YIVO arranged an exhibition "Eight Years: Jewish Refugees in Shanghai, 1939-1945" in October and November 1947. That is where the core of the collection originated from. Other items were collected by Yoni Fein and Yosl Mlotek (earlier working at YIVO) who were awarded Research Training Division fellowships (Aspiratur) to document the Jewish communities in the Far East. The first results of their collecting and curatorial activity arrived at the New York YIVO office in 1946. The exhibition in Shanghai was subsequently shipped to YIVO in New York and displayed and later stored there.

Later on other material was added. Among others "The history of the Jews in Shanghai" was donated by Usher Rozenbes.

Mrs. Barbash donated materials of Boris S. Barbash on May 5, 1954.

The notepad with texts for broadcasting in Yiddish on the Radio station XMHA was the gift of David Marcus.

In October 1990 Henry C. Bacharach, a former administrator in a refugee camp in Shanghai, donated several documents, including his personal papers.


This collection has been microfilmed and is available on five Microfilm reels MK 501.1 to MK 501.5.

Related Material

See also the collections of HIAS-HICEM - Subgroup Far East RG 245.4.15, Leo Gershevitch Collection RG 273, and Microfilm reel MKM 15.56A of the HIAS - Shanghai Office.

Separated Material

Photographs in the Shanghai Collection were removed and are part of the YIVO Territorial Photographic Collection RG 120.

Two film reels were removed to the Film Collection where they were registered as Films 218 and 219. They were reformatted to VHS-format.

Processing Information

This collection was originally processed by Nokhem Kantorowicz in 1948. The microfilm was prepared by Solomon Rabinowitz with the assistance of a grant from the S.H. and Helen Scheuer Family foundation in 1991. The finding aid was revised by Stanislav Pejša in 2003. While this finding aid tries to recreate the logical and intellectual content of the collection, the microfilm follows the physical arrangement of folders in the collection. The container list provides both pieces of information.

Guide to the Shanghai Collection, 1924-1950 (bulk 1939-1948) RG 243
Nokhem Kantorowicz, Solomon Rabinowitz, and Stanislav Pejša (revision in 2003)
© 2003
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from ShanghaiCollection.xml

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States