Shanghai Jewish Community Oral History Collection

Finding Aid


Collection Summary

ID Number:

Dates: 1989-ongoing

Extent: 100+ interviews; 37+ transcripts


Acquisition Information

All interviews were conducted and recorded by Steve Hochstadt, former Professor of History at Bates College, beginning in 1989. Interviews and transcripts were given to the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library in 1998; accruals are received occasionally.

Access Restrictions

Access to some interviews is restricted. Contact staff for further information.

Use Restrictions

Requests for permission to reproduce and publish materials from this collection should be addressed in writing to the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library.

Processing Information

Description by Steve Hochstadt.

Arrangement Note

Alphabetical by interviewee.


Historical Note

Shanghai has functioned as an important haven for Jewish refugees from anti-semitism throughout the twentieth century. After British victories over a weak Chinese government in the 1840's, Shanghai became an open city, governed by Western imperialists. Persian Jews with British allegiance, like the Sassoon family, settled there by the end of the nineteenth century. The ease of entry into Shanghai and the existence of a Jewish community there made Shanghai into a possible haven for Jews fleeing persecution. Sephardic Jews in the Turkish Empire, worried about being drafted into the Turkish army during World War I, fled eastward along the shores of the Indian Ocean; many ended up in Shanghai. Russian Jews fled both the socialist revolution in 1917 and the anti-semitic policies of Joseph Stalin in the 1920's. They poured into northern China and many reached as far south as Shanghai.

The largest group of refugees fled from the Nazis in the late 1930's, when other potential places of refuge were closed off. The Shanghai Jews were among the last to leave Germany and Austria, having experienced the full brunt of Nazi persecution for six years. After Kristallnacht the only possibility of escape for most German Jews was Shanghai, with no visa requirements. From German concentration camps to Fascist Italian ships sailing through the Suez Canal to cosmopolitan and lawless Shanghai, these refugees escaped Europe just before war broke out. Arriving in Shanghai penniless, they were greeted by two already thriving Jewish communities, one Russian Ashkenasi and the other Persian Sephardic. By the time that World War II broke out, Shanghai housed about 1,000 Jews of Baghdadi origin, 7,000 Russian Jews, and 16,000 to 18,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. After 1943 the refugees who had arrived after 1937 were confined in a bombed-out slum by Japanese occupation forces, the only ghetto outside of Europe. This community rapidly dispersed after 1945 to Israel and the United States, with small contingents emigrating to Canada, Australia, and back to Europe. By the 1950's very few European Jews were left in Shanghai.


Scope and Content Note

The Shanghai Jewish Community Oral History Project is directed by Steve Hochstadt, former Professor of History at Bates College. The project collects oral histories of surviving Shanghai Jews, focusing especially on the German-speaking refugees. The interviews show not only how they survived, but also how they created a community of synagogues, cafes, theaters, schools, and newspapers. The first interviews were done on a trip to China in spring 1989. The rest were taped in Florida, California, Berlin, Vienna, Salzburg, Chicago, and other places.

Currently there are over 100 interviews with over 115 Shanghai Jews. 37 of these interviews have been transcribed and transcription work continues. Transcripts were prepared with support from Bates College, the Dimmer-Bergstrom Fund, and the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation.