A new book was launched on Dec 12 in Shanghai that gives a new Chinese perspective on Jewish refugees in China during World War II.
Publication of Jewish Refugees in China (1933-1945): History, Perspective and Chinese Model marked the conclusion of a project sponsored by the National Social Science Fund of China.
The book’s editor, Pan Guang, a professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, is dean of the Center of Jewish Studies Shanghai.
“Information travels very fast today, and if we don’t tell the story from the Chinese point of view, others will tell it first,” he said.
He added that while visiting abroad he has encountered misinterpretations about what happened. For example, he said, he saw a map in Austria that highlighted cities that sheltered Jewish refugees. Shanghai was marked with a Japanese flag.
“They thought it was the Japanese who sheltered the refugees, because Shanghai was occupied by the Japanese at that time,” he said.
About 30,000 Jewish refugees came to China between 1933 and 1941, Pan said. Most of them landed in Shanghai, an open city that didn’t require a visa to enter. After the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Japanese authorities took over the foreign settlements and concessions in Shanghai, forcing residents to move to a special “ghetto” area in Hongkou district.
Strictly speaking, Hongkou was not a ghetto, he said, as it housed a mix of residents－including Chinese people. “Chinese and Jewish people helped each other, went through hardships together and survived the war together,” he said.
Jewish refugees also found shelter in other major Chinese cities, such as Tianjin, Harbin, Hong Kong and Chongqing. Also, China, especially Shanghai, already had a strong Jewish community from the early 1900s consisting of wealthy Sephardi and Russian Jews.
Among the war refugees were large numbers of musicians, physicians and others who made great contributions to Shanghai and China generally, Pan said. Among them were founding members of China’s first symphony orchestra and the dean of the neurology department of St. John’s University. Some participated in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).
Through his career of almost 40 years, Pan has seen the study of Jewish refugees in China develop from a subject known by few to an academic hot spot, drawing wide public interest. Films and musicals featuring the Jewish experience in Shanghai have been produced based on the stories uncovered by Pan and his colleagues.
Publication of the new book marked a significant development in the research of Jewish refugees in China, said Wang Jian, director of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences’ history college. Especially precious is the firsthand information acquired from interviews with refugees and their descendants, he said.
With the accumulation of primary-source documents and historical artifacts－and with more materials emerging－the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum will apply to register the history of the refugees in Shanghai as part of the Memory of the World program under UNESCO, Pan said. He said he will help the museum to authenticate a new batch of material for the collection.
“Many additional materials will be needed－especially firsthand documents－for the application,” he said.
Pan said the research project that resulted in the book took him and dozens of colleagues seven years to complete. It brings insights for today’s problem of refugees from such areas as Syria, he said.
“All human civilization is a community, and we share the same destiny. That’s why we have to help each other,” he said.