To know the unique story of the Jews in Shanghai is to understand this city of immigrants. It begins at the Jewish monument in Houshan Park. It’s hard to imagine that once near here were seven synagogues, four cemeteries, a Jewish school financed by Horace Kadoorie and a world-famous jazz club entertaining celebrities like Alfred Einstein and Charlie Chaplin.
Ashkenazi Jews, escaping pogroms, the Russian revolution and the invading Nazis, arrived in rags. Local Jewish families and American Jewish charities welcomed them with limited shelter, food and clothing.
After the Imperial Japanese army subsequently moved into town on December 7th, 1941, the new military governor summoned Jewish community leaders with a question: “Why do the Germans hate you so much?”
Under pressure from impatient Nazi allies to implement a “final solution” to their longstanding problem with Jews, the Japanese governor in 1943 ordered 18,000 Jews to relocate to “Little Vienna,” the poorest and most crowded area of the city. Berlin meanwhile dispatched to the Pearl of the Orient an SS man with a plan.
Nonetheless, thanks to the reluctance of the Japanese command, the majority of Shanghai Jews outlasted the Nazis, survived the ghetto and even the Allied bombing raids. Most recently some of these survivors such as former US Treasury Secretary W Michael Blumenthal have made emotional return visits.