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Shanghai Jewish Community Oral History Project

Identifier: SJOH

Scope and Contents 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.

The collection consists of 99 audiotaped interviews with over 115 Shanghai Jews. Currently 64 of the interviews have been transcribed and transcription work continues.


  • 1989-1999


Language of Materials

Most of the interviews are in English but a number of them are in German.

Conditions Governing Access

Access to the administrative files is restricted and also to some of the interviews. Contact staff for further information.

Biographical or 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.


3.92 Linear Feet (7 manuscript boxes, 6 audiocassette boxes)

Organization and arrangement note

Organized into two series: I. Interviews and II. Administrative files; arranged alphabetically by last name

Finding aid for the Shanghai Jewish Community Oral History Collection
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library Repository

70 Campus Avenue
Lewiston Maine 04240 United States of America