In this section I’ll be compiling a list of Hong Kong’s Jews who were in some way involved in helping alleviate the European Jewish refugee crisis between the years 1938 – 1953. If you’d like to suggest an individual to add to the list, please get in touch here. I’d be delighted to hear from you.
The following is taken from an article on Mr. Weiss written by the Jewish community of Hong Kong. Mr. Weiss provided transport facilities for Jewish refugees as well as a marriage service between Europe and Asia so that Jews could escape Czechoslovakia.
Karel was born to an agricultural family in Czechoslovakia in 1903. Karel’s father tried to convince his oldest child to remain with the family and manage their considerable land holdings. But Karel was already enchanted by the possibilities of other lands and far off places. So when he completed his studies of international commerce in Berlin and Vienna, he signed up with the largest shoe manufacturer in Czechoslovakia – a company with interests around the globe. So in the 1930s and 1940s you’d find Karel philosophizing with all sorts of travellers and locals in Seoul, Hanoi, Tokyo. He was the first Jew many in Asia had ever met.
Karel finally settled in 1937 in Hong Kong. In the early 1940’s Karel dabbled in ‘shipping’ and became the owner of several large boats. A mediocre business venture at the time, but remarkable for the off-hour trips it enabled Karel to make to transport European refugees around Hong Kong and to other parts of Asia. He was also working with then with the local government as a ‘guarantor’, the European immigrants were permitted to enter Hong Kong with the assurance that they would be out of the colony within two weeks at a time. Interestingly, the most ‘accepting’ country then was China. It never refused a Jewish refugee. The European visitors received room and board at the Hong Kong Jewish Recreation Club. This was a major project for the JRC of 1940. It consisted of 80 members, many of whom resided outside of Hong Kong. In fact, you’d find the biggest numbers at synagogue in January and February, when the highbrowed contingent from Shanghai came down for the races with their ‘closed umbrellas and big round hats’. Dues were then running $2 a month, and many times the rabbi came by personally to collect the fee.
One more burning question remained.
‘Mr. Weiss, was there ever a Mrs. Weiss?’ ‘Twenty,’ he chuckled. Mr. Weiss’ enthusiasm for the opposite sex had been underestimated. And, naturally there was a tale to go with it. During the war Mr. Weiss had had marriages arranged between Asia and Europe, to help Jewish women get out of the Nazi territories. His father coordinated the program out of Czechoslovakia. The tricky thing, though, was getting the paperwork from one divorce completed before the next certificate arrived. ‘But that was forty years ago?’ A wink. Mr. Weiss, we salute you and wish you 50 more years of good deeds and living in Hong Kong.
Lewis A. Tobias
The following is taken from a South China Morning Post article dated July 16 1940.
The late Mr Tobias was refractionist and manager in Hong Kong of the firm of N. Lazarus, Ophthalmic Opticians, which is headed by his brother, Mr Harry Tobias in Shanghai. Deceased was a Jew, born in London 60 years ago. After being educated in England he came to China in 1911 and stayed in Shanghai for six months. He then came to Hong Kong where he took over the present establishment, and remained here until his death except for occasional trips to the north. As President of the Jewish Recreation Club and a loyal supporter of all the activities of the Jewish community, the late Mr Tobias had also done certain work in connection with refugees travelling to or through Hong Kong. He was best known, however, for his Masonic affiliations and at the time of death he was a senior active member of the Zetland Lodge, 525E.C., treasurer of the Victoria chapter, 525 E.C., member of the Ararat Lodge, the Eothen Mark Lodge and St. Andrew Chapter. Mr. Tobias was a keen follower of horses and he was a familiar and popular figure on the Happy Valley course for very many years. He resided with his wife in Macdonell Road.