Refuge in Shanghai (1938-1953)

The Nazi "Anschluss," the annexation of Austria by Germany in March 1938, touched off a great tide of refugee migration to Shanghai, and some 17,000 residents of Central Europe streamed to the city from 1938-1939. Most were destitute or nearly so. In 1938, the Committee for the Assistance of European Jewish Refugees in Shanghai (CAEJF) was organized, and JDC supplied most of the funds it needed. In 1941, Polish refugees arrived in Shanghai from Lithuania after crossing Siberia. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese authorities closed Shanghai to further immigration. But at the same time, they deported to it most of the Jewish refugees then living in Japan and other Jewish refugees trapped in the Far East while in transit to other countries. All told, some 20,000 refugees lived in Shanghai at the opening of 1942, and 15,000 survived the war with JDC aid. About two-thirds of the refugees came from Austria and Germany, and the others were from Eastern European countries.

In April, 1941, a JDC representative, Laura Margolis, arrived in Shanghai to guide refugee aid and emigration activities. A second representative, Manny Siegel, joined her on the eve of Pearl Harbor. Following Pearl Harbor, direct communications with the U.S. were cut off, leaving JDC representatives communicating with their headquarters via third countries. Under the Japanese occupation, Margolis and Siegel were classified as enemy aliens, but were permitted to remain at liberty until February, 1943 when they were interned. By then, they had succeeded in organizing a system of emergency relief with the equipment needed to run steam kitchens capable of feeding 10,000 people per day. These kitchens kept the refugees alive for the duration of the war.

Between 1946, when emigration resumed, and 1953, JDC helped some 16,000 Jews emigrate from China.

The following source materials from the JDC Archives depict aspects of JDC’s work in Shanghai during this period:

Primary Sources

Following are source materials in PDF format that can be used to teach about this series of events and its lessons: