SJYA diary: July 18 1937

Day 2 of Yenta Kleiman’s  Shanghai Jewish Youth Association summer club diary (day 1 can be found here):

Through no little trouble on the side of Mr. Horce Kadoorie, special permit was obtained for all members of the Shanghai Jewish Youth Association summer club to go to Jessfield Park, where we spent a glorious afternoon. A secluded spot was reserved for us with no outsiders interfering.

Out in the fresh air all developed an appetite, and sumptuously partook of the excellent refreshments served out – cakes, sandwiches, lemonade and orangeade. As an additional treat we had “Push Up” ice creams, not yet introduced to Shanghai.

A visit to the zoo was made, which was greatly enjoyed by all. Many children had never been to a zoo before, and the monkeys and parrots afforded much laughter and amusement.

The senior members indulged in a very interesting talk on trees and plants, given by Mr. J.W. Kerr. Although only half an hour was allowed for this item, everybody made the best of it, and are the better for it.

DELIGHT was visible and audible everywhere. Happiness was imprinted on every child’s face. What a marvelous reward to those who have made this Summer Club possible!

All heartily rejoiced together, as united members of a loving family.


The Shanghai Jewish Youth Association, summer club diary (1938)

I’ve come across a diary written by Yenta Kleiman which chronicles the summer club activities of the Shanghai Jewish Youth Association (SJYA), a school and summer camp established by Horace Kadoorie for Jewish refugee children in 1937. I’ll be serialising Yenta’s diary entries on my blog over the next few days.

SJYA Summer Club x4 photo
Abraham Abraham at the SJYA summer club, pictured July 1938 in Jessfield Park, enjoying lemonade and a push-up lolly

Thursday 14 July, 18:00: school – Chinese dinner, conjurer  

The much looked forward to day at last dawned. I was rather anxious to guess what the skies proposed to do, and, as if in answer to my prayer, it turned out a fine day. All day long it was unendurably hot, but towards six o’ clock it cooled down considerably, and the 14th of July, a marked day in the history of France, was no less enthusiastically celebrated by the S.J.Y.A. as it was arduously commemorated by the French Nationals.

The children were given one surprise after another, until they were the personification of Ecstasy itself – so excited and eager they were. Some expected to have dinner in the School dining room, while others “I bet you anything it will be in the auditorium”, the latter almost sure they would collect their bets. Yet both parties were entirely wrong.

The roof garden was done up most gorgeously. – Tables laid for six, palm trees and plants, the delicious Chinese dinner, and conjuring entertainment, all helped to make the evening a perfect success.

Just before the dinner, the President, Mr. H. Kadoorie, gave an introductory speech, which was highly applauded by all present (over 160 people). As I walked home, I thought with exhilaration that this evening is the prelude of eleven more enjoyable ones to come.

World Refugee Day 2018: Refugee Voices

My sister, an engineer, kindly invited me to an event hosted by her firm to mark World Refugee Day on 20 June 2018. The event aimed to ‘humanise and individualise the stories of those who have been displaced’ and featured three speakers of different nationalities and backgrounds, crossing generational and religious divides. All had suffered from the reverberations of displacement, either directly or indirectly, and each spoke about the complexities of the notion of home, described as a ‘landscape of the heart’ by the keynote speaker, a Syrian refugee.

The first presentation was given by the daughter of a German-Jewish refugee, whose father sought a refuge in Britain after the violence of Kristallnacht and his incarceration in a concentration camp. Once in Britain, he was interned as an enemy alien, possibly on the Isle of White, where most Germans and Austrians were detained. She was raised in a ‘culture of silence’ and described her quest to piece together her family’s past. Although a second-generation refugee, her father’s exile influenced her life, which has been marked by transience. ‘I am not a tree’, she remarked. ‘I have no roots’.

The second speaker escaped the civil war in Bosnia as a child in the early 1990s. She recounted how, aged seven, she and her mother evaded snipers to reach the last UN convoy to leave besieged Sarajevo. They embarked on an uncertain future as refugees, firstly in Croatia, and finally in Italy, where she spent her childhood. Displacement was compounded by a sense of isolation and deep loneliness as mother and daughter struggled to contact relatives back home. Years later, she was eventually reunited with her father, whose experiences of war left him a deeply changed man. Today, living and working in Britain, she reflected on her understanding of home. Where is home? She asked. It is nowhere, and everywhere, laying in the cracks of the places she had fled from and to: Bosnia, Croatia, Italy and Britain.

The final speaker was a prodigious young architect from Syria, one of the few to be granted asylum under the government’s Syrian Resettlement Scheme (it is hoped that 20,000 will be resettled by 2020). He spoke of the repression wrought by the Baathist party, early hopes for the Arab Spring and Syrian uprising, and his six-week detention in a 25 square metre cell, shared with 75 other detainees, many of whom died. He reflected on his personal struggle as a diaspora-activist-architect, his feelings of loss and helplessness, but also anger at the failures of international institutions, including the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, to help Syria and its people. He has tried to find meaning in exile and displacement. What does it mean to be a refugee? As shown by the three speakers, exile transcends language, culture, nationality and religion. As John Berger has written: ‘Ours has been the century of departure, of migration, of exodus – of disappearance, the century of people helplessly seeing others, who were close to them, disappear over the horizon.’     

Jewish population of Hong Kong

As I collect more information on the lives of Jewish refugees in Hong Kong, it’s important to understand the extent of the colony’s existing Jewish population. Their exact numbers, however, have often proved elusive.

One valuable source of information is provided by the formidable Rev. Carl T Smith, one of Hong Kong’s most prolific historians. In his article ‘The early Jewish community of Hong Kong’ (1995), he compares data taken from China Directories, census reports and the Jewish encyclopaedia to give a more rounded picture of the existing community. I’ve typed up some of his findings below:

China Directories

*NB: directories do not list all residents, but individuals who have employment in a firm, shop or other business.

1872: 23 individuals

  • E.R. Belilios, 2
  • A.S. Cohen, broker, 1
  • Cohen, merchant, 1
  • C.C. Cohen & Co., 1
  • Landstein and Co., 2
  • D. Sassoon, Sons & Co., 6
  • E.D. Sassoon & Co., 6
  • Reuben Solomon, general broker, 1
  • J.A. Solomon, merchant, 2

1874: 18 individuals

  • E.R. Belilios, 1
  • C.C. Cohen & Co., 1
  • Landstein and Co., 1
  • D. Sassoon, Sons and Co., 5
  • E.D. Sassoon and Co., 7
  • Reuben Solomon, 1
  • A.J. Solomon, 2

 1875: 19 individuals

  • E.R. Belilios, 1
  • C.C. Cohen & Co., 1
  • Landstein and Co., 2
  • D. Sassoon, Sons and Co., 7
  • E.D. Sassoon and Co., 6
  • Reuben Solomon, 1
  • J.A. Solomon, 1

Jewish encyclopaedia:

  • 1882: 60 Sephardic
  • 1898: 150

Hong Kong census reports:

  • 1872: 40 total: European 17, Asian 24
  • 1876: 46 total: European 10, Asian 36
  • 1881: 71 total: European 22, Asian 49
  • 1901: 165 total: males 99, females 66
  • 1906: 155 total: males 88, females 67
  • 1911: 231 total: males 136, females 95

Note how early census reports categorise Jews as either ‘European’ or ‘Asian’. Historians working on Shanghai Jewry have written extensively about colonial / settler categorisations of Jews as defined by wealth, class and status, with more prosperous Jews described as ‘European’ and poorer sections of the community described as ‘oriental’ in official lists. Maisie Meyer and Jonathan Goldstein have also written about how ‘Sephardi’ was a preferred term as it denoted a European lineage. From the 1900s onwards, both males and females are listed in the census reports, which may reflect the migration of women to the colony as the men started to lay down their roots and settle in Hong Kong as a place of permanent residence.