Refugee Employers

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been compiling a list of Hong Kong companies that employed Jewish refugees. As I discover more employers, several questions crop up: did they hire Jewish refugees because of their skills, or as a humanitarian gesture? What were the hiring practices of the time? To use Catherine Ladds’ term, how were refugees able to navigate and exploit the ‘imperial circuits’ used by mobile Europeans in China?

To answer these questions, I need to begin with the employers themselves. Here’s a little background on the companies I have found so far:

The Comptoir Anglo-Continental hired several Jewish refugees. This company is proving particularly elusive, although I believe it was a British bank.

Post-publishing note: I’ve since discovered that Hans Diestel, a Jewish refugee escaping the bombardment of Shanghai in 1937, was hired by The Comptoir Anglo-Continental in Hong Kong in around June 1938. He was also the Joint-Secretary of the Jewish Refugee Society. Could he have been responsible for hiring several Jewish refugees?

Gilmans & Co. was another firm that employed Jewish refugees. It’s listed in Solomon Bard’s Traders of Hong Kong: Some Foreign Merchant Houses, 1841 – 1899 (1993) as one of the oldest firms in China, founded by Richard James Gilman. In its early years, the company exported tea and silk and imported textiles, it also played an important role in the formation of the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank, today’s HSBC. Although the company floundered in China, it survived in Hong Kong and diversified into the motor car trade. Its legacy can be seen in Hong Kong’s street names: Gilman’s Bazaar and Gilman Street.

Post-publishing note: Paul Braga, friend and business associate of the Kadoories, was a senior manager at Gilmans in the 1930s. M.H. Rackusan, a member of the Ohel Leah Synagogue, also worked here. Could they have collaborated to hire Jewish refugees in the firm?

Carlowitz & Co. was the only German entity to employ Jewish refugees, although this is partly explained by the fact that many German companies did not return to Hong Kong after the First World War. The founder Richard von Carolwitz was born in Dresden. Carlowitz & Co. started life as a shipping and merchant house in Canton, and later branched out into insurance in the various treaty ports of China.

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