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Yehuda Bauer: My Brother's Keeper

A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939

[Holocaust preparations in Europe and resistance without solution of the situation]

The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1974

Transcription with subtitles by Michael Palomino (2007)



Chapter 6. The Beginning of the End
[L. 6.33. Jewish emigration from the Reich (Germany and Austria) to Shanghai 1938-1939 - 18,000 by September 1939]

[Jewish emigration to Shanghai without visa possible]

In a world of closed borders and hostile officialdom,

(End note 176: A good example of this in Latin America was the secretary of the government of British Guiana (the proposed Jewish homeland). This worthy man wrote a letter to the British Guiana Information Bureau in New York (see above, note 172, 29-Germany) on December 13, 1938, in response to a request for an entry permit by a Jewish refugee. The refugee was told that anyone who had 50 pounds in his wallet could land. However, there were some small snags: there was no work and no employment; generally speaking, refugees would be well advised not to come. "It would be most inadvisable for your family and you to consider coming here. ... You are strongly advised not to migrate to this colony.")

the Jews of Germany and Austria were ready to clutch at straws. One such straw was Shanghai. In 1937 Shanghai was divided between the international settlement, which was run by the foreign powers (who had, in fact, been ruling the city during the period of the disintegration of the Chinese state), and the Chinese part of the city, which had just been conquered by the Japanese. There was no (p.289)

requirement for an entry visa into the city. IKG [Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (IKG) (Austria)] became aware of this fact in Vienna in the summer of 1938. The problem was to pay the fares to Shanghai, usually by a German or Italian boat; later a rail connection via the USSR into Manchuria and thence to Shanghai would also be attempted. Shanghai became a place of refuge, especially for those people who, threatened with arrest and a concentration camp, could find no other place of emigration.

[Jews in Shanghai in little groups without contact between each other]

The Jewish community in Shanghai was made up of two main elements: a wealthy aristocracy comprised mainly of Iraqi Jews (among them were members of the famous Sassoon and Kaddouri families), and Russian Jews who had come from Manchuria after world War I. Since the rise of Hitler to power, some German Jews had also arrived, mainly members of the professions. The different groups maintained separate social and cultural lives and evinced little mutual sympathy for one another.

The situation of the few German Jewish refugees had attracted the attention of JDC toward the end of 1937. At that time Judge Harry A. Hollzer of Los Angeles, a respected JDC stalwart, drew the attention of JDC to Shanghai - his brother, Joseph Hollzer, who was the head of a Jewish Relief Committee there, had provided him with some distinctly disturbing information. In early 1938 there were some 500 destitute Jews in the city, not all of them German Jews. But in London the Joint Foreign Committee of the Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association decided that Shanghai was "not a matter about which any Jewish community outside of Shanghai and Hong Kong need be troubled."

(End note 177: R52, current reports, 10/12/37 [12 October 1937])

[Jews in Shanghai don't want to finance the new Jewish refugees - JDC help]

The truth of the matter was that the rich Jews of Shanghai were able, but not very willing, to look after the few refugees who were then in the city. From London it seemed ridiculous to send money to a place like Shanghai.

JDC could not take this kind of attitude. Not only Hollzer, but also other people turned to JDC. In February 1938 the New York office empowered Kahn to look into the matter, though Shanghai was hardly included in Europe, which was Kahn's proper field of activity.

(End note 178: Executive Committee, 2/24/38 [2 February 1938])

JDC records indicate that during 1938, $ 5,000 was appropriated for refugee work in Shanghai. (p.290)

[Sep 1939: 18,000 German Jewish refugees in Shanghai - JDC help]

After November 1938 people began streaming into the Far Eastern metropolis. By June 1939 there were 10,000 refugees in the city, and by the time war broke out in Europe there were close to 18,000. Most of them found refuge in the Chinese part of the city. Unemployment was the rule rather than the exception, because Europeans could not compete with the Chinese for work. In early February the British, American, and French consuls drew "the attention (of) their governments to (the) refugee situation, particularly to (the) necessity (for) relief funds."

The U.S. government of course turned to JDC. In JDC the opinion was that "as (the) matter came to us from (the) State Department, we must be prepared to be helpful."

(End note 179: R55, cables 1/12/39 [12 January 1939], 2/1/39 [1 February 1939]

The Council for German Jewry in London also provided help in the form of 5,000 pounds; but the main burden fell on JDC, which sent $ 60,000 to Shanghai before September.

Attempts to stop the influx into Shanghai were made by all the responsible bodies dealing with emigration. But the Jewish agencies in Germany and Austria refused to cooperate. In March 1939 the Hilfsverein in Berlin answered with a plea to "trust us when we tell you that we are unable to diminish the emigration from Germany and that the only possibility to prevent our people from going to such places as Shanghai lies in finding some more constructive opportunities for emigration."

(End note 180: R10, 3/19/39 [19 March 1939], Hyman memo to Backer)

Gestapo pressure was definitely more convincing than anything JDC could say.

The paradox of the Shanghai situation - viewed with the benefit of hindsight - lies in the fact that what was in 1938/9 considered the utmost cruelty, namely, forced emigration, turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though the disguise may often have been very heavy indeed. The refugees in Shanghai, the illegal immigrants who were pushed onto boats to Palestine or Latin America by their desperation, often under direct Gestapo pressure - all of them managed to survive the holocaust. The ones who stayed behind did not. Yet among leaders of German Jewry in 1939, who had a clear feeling of approaching doom, it was thought to be more dignified for a Jew to suffer death in Europe than to die of starvation in (p.291)


(End note 181: R47, 3/22 [22 March 1939?], unsigned. "One can also be of the opinion that it would be more worthy of a Jews to go to a martyr's death than to perish miserably in Shanghai. The first choice would be a matter of kiddush hashem, the second merely a failure of Jewish emigration policies" (trans. from German).

The truth is that the people in Shanghai did not die of starvation - in large part thanks to JDC.