The Jews of Shanghai

Old Shanghai
A busy street in Old Shanghai, looking from City Wall across Canal into French Concession, 1900. C. Underwood & Underwood

‘Shanghai … life itself … nothing more intensely living can be imagined … So much life, so carefully canalised, so rapidly and strongly flowing, the spectacle of it inspires something like terror’. – Aldous Huxley

‘Shanghai, this electric and lurid city, more exciting than any other in the world’. – J.G. Ballard

For almost 100 years, Shanghai had been home to a small, close-knit Sephardi community of Baghdadi Jews. The Sassoons were the first to establish themselves in Shanghai in 1850, and were successful traders. Others, such as the Kadoories, the Abrahams, Ezras and Hardoons, most of whom started out working for the Sassoons, soon prospered as successful businessmen in their own right. Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews arrived in the early 20th century from Russia following the anti-Jewish pogrom of 1905 (Kiev Pogrom) and later the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Following the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, tens of thousands of Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria fled to Shanghai, attracted by the city’s visa free status. The established Jewish communities of Shanghai immediately began fundraising activities to deal with the refugee’s most urgent needs. Horace Kadoorie founded the Shanghai Jewish Youth Association (SJYA) to provide a meal programme, medical supplies and employment bureau to meet the refugee’s most urgent needs. The SJYA School was opened in November 1939 at 100 Kinchow Road (today, Jingzhou Road) to supplement the overcrowded Shanghai Jewish School. The school was highly regarded due to its emphasis on sports, cultural and social activities, and its high calibre of teaching staff.

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