The Kadoorie Family

Formerly merchant farmers of Jewish origin, the Kadoorie Family settled in Baghdad, Iraq many centuries ago, and were amongst the leaders of their community. Silas Kadoorie, prominent philanthropist and patriarch of the Kadoorie Family, was married to Reemah Yacoob Elaazar Yacob in the nineteenth century. She was related to the Sassoon Family and together they had one daughter and six sons. In 1845, Elias Sassoon, son of David Sassoon, pioneered the settlement of Baghdadi Jews to the Far East.

In the late 1870s, Eleazar Silas (Elly) Kadoorie, son of Silas Kadoorie, followed this trend and left his family home to seek his fortune. He travelled to Hong Kong via Bombay to serve as a clerk in E. D. Sassoon & Co., arriving in Hong Kong in May 1880. Elly’s elder brother, Moshi, who had preceded him, was also employed in Sassoon’s and later, in 1883, he was joined by his younger brother Ellis. Elly left Hong Kong and was transferred to North China as the Deputy Manager of Sassoon’s branch in Wuhu (Anhui Province) and later moved to Ningbo. During an outbreak of plague, Elly withdrew a barrel of disinfectant without permission  and for this he was reprimanded. He later left the company and returned to Hong Kong, where his brother, Moshi, gave him HK$500 to start anew. With this money, Elly set himself up as a broker, establishing “Benjamin, Kelly and Potts” with his partners, George Potts and Sassoon Benjamin, which soon became the premier brokerage house in Hong Kong; representing the small man’s interest. This firm was to play an important role in promoting China Light and Power Co. Ltd. (China Light) as a successful local company. Both Elly and Ellis used the name “Kelly” in the early years of their business careers, but resumed their original surname in 1901. Whilst Ellis was to remain a bachelor all his life, Elly married Laura Mocatta in 1897. A keen diarist, painter and adventurous traveller, Laura hailed from the prestigious Mocatta Family, a Jewish family originally from Spain. Among other activities, they operated as the sole bullion dealers for the Bank of England’s first century of operation in the 1600s and were one of the early Jewish families to establish themselves in England along with the Montefiores and others. Together, Laura and Elly had three sons; Lawrence and Horace, and Victor who died in infancy.

In the course of time, both Elly and his brother Ellis did much to promote the expansion of trade and industry in Hong Kong and Shanghai. In 1911, Elly’s family moved to Shanghai, where he made his fortune trading in Malayan rubber, later focusing on Shanghai based business and industrial ventures. The brothers would go on to invest in many successful companies such as the Peak Tramways Co. Ltd., Hong Kong’s pioneering transport system, The Hongkong Hotel Co. (later to become The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Ltd.) and China Light, the sole electricity supplier to Kowloon and the New Territories, as well as the Shanghai Gas Co. Ltd. and the Shanghai Land Investment Co. Ltd. In 1919, Elly’s Shanghai home on 161 Bubbling Well Road (West Nanjing Road) caught fire, and Laura tragically lost her life by returning to the house to rescue the governess. In 1922, Ellis passed away. Elly became a China Light Director in 1928 and was invited to take a seat on The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels board in the same year. Both Elly and Ellis received a number of honours and awards throughout their careers, including knighthoods.

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The Shanghai Jewish Youth Association

Students of the Shanghai Jewish Youth Association, image courtesy of Leah Garrick

In the visa-free port of Shanghai, the number of European Jewish refugees arriving rose to 15,000 in the 10 months from December 1938 through to September 1939. Various organisations were hastily established in Shanghai and elsewhere to support this burgeoning and penniless refugee population. These included the Hilsfond Fuer Deutsche Juden and the Committee for the Assistance of European Jewish Refugees in Shanghai which issued passports, kept registries, provided assistance in finding jobs as well as financial aid and accommodation.

Horace Kadoorie established the Shanghai Jewish Youth Association (S.J.Y.A) in February 1937 following a visit to the Shanghai Jewish School (S.J.S) in early January 1937. There, he found malnourished children plagued by tuberculosis and with little to no opportunities for employment. Soon after establishing the S.J.Y.A, an educational programme was developed which included business classes and an “Employment Bureau” at the Nieh Chih Kuei School, which was loaned to the Association by the Shanghai Municipal Council until 1941.

The S.J.Y.A also hosted summer camps promoted as: “The Jewish Children’s Fresh Air Camp”. The 1938 summer camp was held on the grounds of the Shanghai University and included a Fun Fair, evening film screenings, sport heats and amateur theatre productions.

By February 1939, with the steady influx of refugees (arriving at this time at over 1,000 per month) and the current S.J.S unable to cope with the increased numbers, the S.J.Y.A expanded its activities from summer clubs and camps to regular education, and focused its attention on refugee children, after which the S.J.Y.A school, otherwise known as the Kadoorie school, became the largest Jewish School in Shanghai and an indispensable support network for refugee families.

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.

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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.

Rescue in the Philippines

As with many countries across the world, the United States’ quota system of immigration severely limited escape routes for Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism in the 1930s. Incredibly, it was the Philippines, a U.S. Commonwealth, that became a minor port of rescue in Asia for 1,200 refugees. In this blog posting I briefly explore the history of Jewish rescue in Manila and the networks of aid across the port cities of Manila, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

In collaboration with Philippine President Quezon and the U.S. High Commissioner Paul V. McNutt, the Frieder brothers, leaders of the Manila Jewish community, established an official refugee immigration programme that rescued 1,200 Jews from 1937 to 1941. It was a plan based on professions needed in the Philippines including doctors, engineers, mechanics and agricultural experts, amongst others. The trio went further and attempted to rescue tens of thousands of persecuted Jews by opening a major Jewish agricultural settlement on the island of Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines. Although other international agricultural settlement schemes had been proposed (such as British Guiana), the Mindanao Plan was the only such scheme to be seriously considered in Asia. The plan was initially mooted in the months following the failed Evian Conference of July 1938, organized to find a haven for European Jews escaping Nazi persecution, but ultimately failed due to local opposition, problems of land acquisition and funding, and the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines.

Originally from Cincinnati, the Frieder brothers owned the Helena Tobacco Factory in Manila which produced cigars for the U.S. market. They met with the Kadoorie brothers and other Jewish representatives in Hong Kong immediately before Kristallnacht (a violent pogrom in Nazi Germany) in 1938 to offer solutions to the growing refugee crisis most notably in Shanghai, where hundreds of refugees had already arrived. As reported in the meeting minutes, the Frieders were keen to forge links and co-operate fully ‘with the communities of Hong Kong and Shanghai in order to better the situation of these refugees’. Although the Frieders were American and the Kadoories were British, the diverse port communities of Hong Kong, Manila and Shanghai worked closely together, sharing knowledge and resources across the region in their attempts to elicit support and employment for refugees. During my trip to the States I was delighted to meet and interview Alice Frieder Weston, daughter of Alex Frieder, who kindly shared her memories of family trips to Hong Kong and visits to refugee centres in Shanghai with the Kadoorie brothers in 1940, demonstrating the interconnectivity of Port Jews.

For more information as well as oral histories, photographs and records on rescue in the Philippines, please visit the website of the 2013 documentary film: rescueinthephilippines.com (a must watch!).

For further reading, I also recommend:

  1. Ephraim, Frank, Escape from Manila, From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror
  2. Kotlowski, Dean J., Breaching the Paper Walls: Paul V. McNutt and Jewish Refugees to the Philippines, 1938 – 1939

 

 

Hong Kong’s Early Jews

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Subscribers to Hong Kong’s Ohel Leah Synagogue, 1941

Not much has been written about Hong Kong’s Jewish community in the 1930s. Who were they and what was the size of the community?

The first Jews to arrive in Hong Kong were not affiliated with the Sassoons as is commonly thought, but were British and Australian merchants. Samuel H. Cohen was an adventurer from Sydney, Australia and arrived in Hong Kong in 1844 soon after it had become a British colony, whilst Jacob Phillips, a businessman from Birmingham, arrived in 1843 or 1844. In 1845 Elias David Sassoon opened an office in Canton, which marked the beginning of Sassoon interests in China. Many Jews who moved to Hong Kong from Iraq or India in the second half of the nineteenth century did so because of the employment opportunities afforded by the Sassoons in the tea and opium trade under the auspices of the British Empire. By 1900, there were 165 Jews living in Hong Kong, the majority of whom were Baghdadi.

With the development of Shanghai and the expansion of trade and industry in north China in the inter-war years, many Baghdadi Jews left for Shanghai. In the 1930s the arrival of Jewish refugees from Shanghai, Harbin and Europe – notably Iraqi, Russian, German and Austrian individuals – increased the size and plurality of the community, but Baghdadi Jews remained disproportionally influential. As Caroline Pluss has shown, the cultural hybrid identities of Baghdadi Jews in Hong Kong allowed them to access a myriad of Baghdadi, Jewish diasporic and British colonial networks and resources, thereby maximizing their cultural, economic and social capital in the colony.

The size of Hong Kong’s Jewish community in the 1930s can be inferred from various sources including eyewitness accounts and community records. Walter Buchler, a visitor to Hong Kong in 1936, noted that there were no more than 100 Jews in the colony. The first report of the Hong Kong Jewish Refugee Society was circulated to 136 Jewish individuals in December 1938, although it was felt that the appeal ‘has not reached every Jewish resident owing to the absence of a complete register’. The list may also have been sent to recent German and Austrian refugee arrivals. In a memorandum dated 1946, Lawrence Kadoorie estimated that there were 100 Jews in Hong Kong immediately before the war, of whom approximately 70% were Ashkenazi and 30% Sephardi. The records of the Ohel Leah Synagogue help shed further light on the extent of the community. The Statement of Accounts for December 1934 lists 45 male subscribers, whilst the statement for January 1939 lists 42 male members and 17 female members. Lawrence’s estimate of a community of around 100 persons in 1940 – 41 therefore seems accurate.