The Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum


Entrance to the Refugee Museum

Contributed by Sid Goldstein


During our trip to Shanghai, Lorna and I visited the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Center. It was a very moving experience. The Center encompasses the old Ohel Moishe (Tent of Moses) Synagogue and some additional display space for artifacts of the Jewish refugee community.

In the first few years of Nazi rule, it was still possible for Jews to get out of Germany and Austria. In fact, the Germans “shopped” for countries willing to take Jews. Very few (including the United States) were. In the Chinese embassy in Vienna, there was one man who stood up. Ho Feng Chan was the Consul-General of the Chinese embassy in Austria. He opened the doors to the Jews of Austria. Between 1937 and the beginning of World War II in 1939, over 20,000 Austrian Jews immigrated to Shanghai.

The man who saved the Jews: Ho Feng Shen

The Refugee Museum documents the life of this Jewish community that existed in China during the late 1930s, the 1940s and, in some cases, into the early 1950s. (The last Jews from the original group left Shanghai in 1954.)

These Jews took little with them when they left Europe. They existed by trading, starting small businesses, sewing clothes, and working any jobs they could get. They kept a spiritual community together, had their own newspaper, performed theater and wove themselves into each other’s lives and the life of Shanghai.

The Japanese took over Shanghai in 1943. They declared the Jews “stateless” persons and kept them in a restricted ghetto for the two years they controlled the city. Germany sent representatives to Shanghai to encourage the Japanese to exterminate the Jewish population. Fortunately for the Jews, the Japanese had no interest in doing so.

The museum shows pictures of the daily lives, spiritual lives, businesses, and social discourse of the community. The original synagogue is preserved, and you can see where services were held and where people prayed.

The statue of Jacob Rosenfeld

The Chinese recognized one Jew as a “hero to the people.” He was Doctor Jacob Rosenfeld. Rosenfeld was an Austrian physician who got out of a Nazi concentration camp and made his way to Shanghai. A committed socialist, Rosenfeld joined Mao’s Fourth Army Brigade in 1942 and served as a doctor in the Chinese War against Japan. After the war was over, he served from 1945-1949 on the Communist side in the Civil War. The People’s Republic recognized him as a hero after his death in Israel in 1953. He is commemorated in the Jewish Refugee Museum.

Facing the museum courtyard is a bronze wall with the names of the Jewish residents of Shanghai during the refugee period of 1937-1945. Reading the names and seeing the pictures, brought tears to my eyes. There was a film made in 2013 where several of the people who had been children during the refugee time spoke to the filmmakers. One woman summed up the meaning of this community best: “I survived. I had four children, nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren. None of those people would exist today if the Chinese had not taken us in.”

The Wall of Names (See Littmann)

Refugee Memorial

Inside the Old Ohel Moshe Synagogue

Synagogue Menorah

The “Plate” of Moses