The Sassoons pioneered Baghdadi Jewish migration to the Far East. Hailing from Baghdad, Iraq, the Sassoons were Chief Bankers to the Pashas. Following increasing persecution of the Jewish community in Baghdad, the Sassoons fled to Bombay where patriarch David Sassoon opened his modest trading house (which later became David Sassoon & Sons) in 1832. In 1844 David’s son Elias Sassoon arrived in Canton as the first Jewish merchant to work in the factories, and in 1850 made Shanghai his personal base. Within five years the Sassoons had a solid footing along the whole China coast. E.D. Sassoon & Co., Elias Sassoon’s business, was opened in Hong Kong in 1867. The Sassoon family set up institutions in China and Hong Kong to preserve Baghdadi Jewish traditions.
Victor Sassoon (1881 – 1961) was the grandson of Elias Sassoon, and known as the ‘J.P. Morgan of the Orient’. During Victor’s tenure, E.D. Sassoon & Co. was primarily involved in banking and property and owned some of the best property sites in Shanghai. Sir Victor was heavily involved in philanthropy, notably helping Jewish refugees who had escaped Nazi persecution in Shanghai.
For more information on the Sassoon Family and other Baghdadis in Shanghai, I highly recommend Maisie Meyer’s latest book ‘Shanghai’s Baghdadi Jews, A Collection of Biographical Reflections’, which can be purchased here. You can also check out her website which has extracts of select biographies here.