visit to China this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled
that the city of Shanghai was “one of the few places that opened its gates” to
Jews fleeing Hitler. Officials of the Chinese Communist government, standing
nearby, beamed with pleasure at the expectation that people all over the world
would read how their regime rescued Jews.
Click photo to download. Caption: Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with Mayor of ShanghaiYang Xiong (R) in Shanghai on May 7, 2013. Credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90.
But is it
prime minister noted, the port city of Shanghai was a haven for many European
Jewish refugees during the Hitler years, at a time when most other countries,
including the United States, closed their doors to all but a fortunate few. It
is important to note that much of China was under Japanese military occupation
from 1931 until 1945, and immigration to Shanghai was controlled by the Japanese
government, not the Chinese. The Japanese, hoping to improve their relations
with the U.S. and the American Jewish community, permitted about 20,000 German
and Austrian Jews to settle in Shanghai during the 1930s.
immigration was made possible in part by false documents given to Jews by the
Dutch consul in Lithuania, Jan Zwartendijk, and by transit visas to Japan
provided, without official sanction, by Japan’s acting consul-general in
Lithuania, Sugihara Chiune. Officially the visas were good for only eight to 12
days, but the Japanese authorities allowed the refugees to remain in Japan for
up to eight months until they found other destinations. Many went to Shanghai,
including 500 rabbis and students (and their families) from the famous Mir
in 1943, most of the Jews in Shanghai were confined to a two-square-mile
section of the city known as the Restricted Area. Conditions were harsh but
certainly not comparable to what Jews suffered in Europe. These Jews were saved
from the Holocaust because of Japan’s—not China’s—policies.
several individual Chinese citizens who came to the aid of the Jews during the
Holocaust. But they were nationalists, not Communists; they were associated
with the anti-Communist forces led by Chang Kai-Shek, who later lost the
Chinese civil war and fled to Taiwan in 1949.
Dr. Li Yu Ying, a prominent scholar and president of Soochow University. While
living in the United States in the 1940s, he served as one of the co-chairmen
of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe (better known as
the Bergson Group), an activist movement that held rallies, lobbied in
Washington, DC, and sponsored hundreds of full-page newspaper advertisements
promoting rescue of Jews from the Nazis. Dr. Ying had previously served the
Chang Kai-Shek government in several capacities, including as China’s
representative to League of Nations meetings.
Chinese citizens have been honored by Yad Vashem for assisting Jews during the
Nazi era. One was Pan-Jun-Shun, who moved from China to Russia in 1916 (i.e.
more than thirty years before the Communists took over in China). He was living
in the city of Kharkov, in the Soviet Ukraine, when the Germans invaded in
1941. Pan saved a Jewish girl named Ludmilla Genrichovna from the Nazi
round-ups by hiding her in his home.