Cemeteries and Synagogues

The Jewish Cemetery (Hong Kong)

Jewish community life formally began in Hong Kong in the mid-1850s with the opening of the Jewish Cemetery. The granting of land to Jews for burial purposes was the first official recognition of the Jewish community by the government. The cemetery is still in use today, flanked on either side by a Buddhist temple and its school. It is one of the only Jewish cemeteries in the Far East that remains in its original nineteenth century location.

Pictured left to right: tombstone of Joseph Edgar Joseph and a view of the Jewish Cemetery taken in 2015. For more information on the Jewish Cemetery in Hong Kong, please see the Jewish Historical Society website which includes a very useful burial list.

The Ohel Leah Synagogue (Hong Kong)

Ohel leah Synagogue
The Ohel Leah Synagogue today

Hong Kong’s first formal synagogue was donated by Sir Jacob Sassoon and named after his mother Leah. It was built on land donated to the Jewish community by Sir Jacob and his brothers Edward and Meyer in 1902. The Ohel Leah was renovated in the 1990’s and is a rare example of a synagogue in Asia which has been in almost constant use for worship since it was first built.

 

The Jews of Hong Kong, 1939

In the 1930s, the Jewish community of Hong Kong was small but diverse. Although the core of the community was made up of wealthy Jewish merchants from Baghdad, known as ‘Baghdadi Jews’, there was also a small contingent of Ashkenazi Jews who had escaped pogroms and anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe at the turn of the century, as well as Russian Jews formerly from Harbin, Manchuria. Many left Harbin for Hong Kong after the Japanese occupation in 1932. They were joined by European Jews (mainly German and Austrian) in 1938 when Hitler’s persecution of the Jews intensified.

Record 3
List of Subscribers to the Oheal Leah Synagogue, 31 December 1939

As shown by the ‘List of Subscribers’ document (above), the Baghdadi community dominated Jewish life in Hong Kong. They were both its religious and social leaders and enjoyed close ties with the British ruling classes. Baghdadi families such as the Josephs, Kadoories, Gubbays, Abrahams and Raymonds were often closely related through family or business connections. The Sassoons are listed as the donors of the Synagogue, although by 1939 they no longer lived in Hong Kong. Subscribers such as Monia Talan (Russian), Harry Oscar Odell (Russian) and Dr. Siegfried Szarfstein Ramler (Polish) betray a small but significant non-Baghdadi presence.

During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong (1941 – 1945), Jewish residents were either interned as civilians, fought and died as part of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC), or were at liberty because of their German nationality (Germany being an ally of Japan). Jewish soldiers who died defending Hong Kong included Hebert Samuel (German of Polish origin), the statistician at CLP, and Samuel Liborwich (British) of the Middlesex Regiment.