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Did the Chinese Communists Really Save Jews Fleeing the Holocaust?

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.

Dr. Raphael Medoff

Dr. Raphael Medoff

During his visit to China last month, 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.

But is it true?

As the 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.

This 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 Yeshiva.

Beginning 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.

There were 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.

One was 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, 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.

Two other 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 (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.

The other Chinese rescuer was Dr. Feng Shan Ho, who served as China’s consul-general in Vienna from 1938 to 1940. He issued unauthorized visas to Jews trying to escape Nazi-controlled Austria, enabling them to reach the safety of Shanghai. Dr. Ho represented the Chang Kai-Shek government. And after the nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949, he served as Taiwan’s ambassador to Egypt, Mexico, and other countries.

When Dr. Ho was posthumously honored by Yad Vashem in 2001, the Communist Chinese ambassador attended the ceremony – and insisted that the ambassador from Taiwan be excluded. The Beijing government-controlled press gave prominent coverage to the honoring of Ho, whom it identified as “a Chinese diplomat,” erroneously implying that he was associated with the Beijing regime.

It is not hard to understand why Beijing’s rulers would falsely seek to take credit for what the Chinese nationalists and the Japanese did to help the Jews. Xu Kuangdi, an official of a government agency called the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, explained after visiting the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum last fall, “The spreading of this story plays an active role in promoting the understanding and friendship between the Chinese and people from all over the world.”

Translation: It’s good PR for the regime, and it stimulates tourism, especially by foreign Jews interested in seeing the old Shanghai ghetto area – the same reason the Chinese government installed a kosher kitchen at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

And China’s leaders are determined to keep up appearances: a government website reports that a Beijing official who visited the Shanghai museum “put his hand on the escalator, and when he casually raised the hand, he saw it was still spotlessly clean. Then, he looked back at the head [of the museum] with a satisfied smile…. The two Sanitation Aunts are very industrious…. Whenever visitors come to the Museum, they would see the two Aunts busy with their job.”

Sanitizing the museum is one thing. Sanitizing history is another. Chairman Mao was not some kind of Asian Raoul Wallenberg. His followers are not the ones who deserve the credit for the Shanghai haven, or for the brave efforts of individual Chinese citizens who rescued Jews from the Nazis. JNS

About the Author: Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C., and author of 14 books about the Holocaust, Zionism, and American Jewish history. His latest book is 'FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith,' available from Amazon.


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14 Responses to “Did the Chinese Communists Really Save Jews Fleeing the Holocaust?”

  1. Ruth Hirt says:

    Hmm, interesting to know, however, Israel be cautious.

  2. Ruth Hirt says:

    Hmm, interesting to know, however, Israel be cautious.

  3. Unfortunately, Dr. Medoff's facts are wrong. The Japanese did not control Shanghai until December 1941 (though they did occupy much of eastern China by 1937). The European Jews were welcomed to the International Settlement and the French Concession of Shanghai, especially by the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities therein. It is true that the current government of China (and Shanghai) love to take credit for "saving the Jews" in Shanghai, but it is the international community of wartime Shanghai that deserves the credit, along with the courageous diplomats of several nationalities in Europe who risked much to help so many Jews escape Nazi oppression.
    Wm Patrick Cranley.
    President
    Historic Shanghai

  4. Hai Wang says:

    the stupid author is a shame of Israel.

  5. Hai Wang says:

    thank you Mr. Cranley, thank you for telling the truth

  6. I don't think the writer is Israeli and the fact you don't agree with him does not make him stupid. Your comments are just emotional

  7. I don't think the writer is Israeli and the fact you don't agree with him does not make him stupid. Your comments are just emotional

  8. Fong Carmen says:

    Be humble can make one learn more and make people to love more each other.

  9. Tim Upham says:

    The German and Austrian Jews settling in Shanghai, would have needed Chinese Communist assistance, but the city was occupied by the Japanese. So Japanese approval would have been a necessity.

  10. Joe Jedeikin says:

    You are completely correct.It is not only the International community in Shanghai that deserves the credit for taking the refugees in, but the American Jewish Joint committee in

  11. Joe Jedeikin says:

    New York deserves credit for keeping them alive.

  12. Joe Jedeikin says:

    my uncle Joseph Bitker arranged to keep those funds flowing from New York to Shanghai even while the USA and Japan were at war!

  13. Anonymous says:

    BernhardRosenberg – YouTube.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/BernhardRosenberg

    HOLOCAUST SPEECH… Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg shares his response to the statement that was… Rabbi Dr. Rosenberg's Speech on the Holocaust.

  14. There was a large group of jews from Russia in Harabin northern China who suvived the war.

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