Shanghai Ghetto - Our Passports
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Shanghai Ghetto


The period lasting from 1943 to 1945.


This is the amazing story of the Jewish community that was living in Shanghai during World War Two and under the Japanese occupation.


The Chinese city of Shanghai is located on the coast, on the eastern section of the country. It has been an attraction for foreigners, merchants and civilians, for many years, with the 1842 Opium War leading to a full blown expansion of the foreign concessions growing rapidly to the north and western sections of the city, that permitted only foreigners to take residence there (the Shanghai International Settlement was known in Chinese as 上海公共租界; and this came about following the signature of the Treaty of Nanking). Eventually, the 19th century saw every major foreign power in the Far East trying to control sections of the city that housed its nationals, and slowly becoming a ‘country within a country’. By the 1920’s, the city was controlled by several foreign “local” municipal governments comprising of nationals from several European countries: the English, French and German enclaves for example.


This situation was not limited to Shanghai alone, and up to 1949 several other major Chinese cities where “jointly” run by both local Chinese authorities and foreigners as well, such cities included Guangzhou (Canton), Hankow, Tianjin, Beijing and Harbin. This could also explain why various “official” municipality issued invoices and receipts would be found in French, German, Russian or other language as well.


Trying to control the city with so many local and foreign influences was hard enough, and by the early 1930’s violence and conflict was also thrown into the picture.


The Japanese aggressive behavior towards its neighbor in the west was getting more violent and territorial claims were already being “implemented on the ground”: The Japanese invasion of north-eastern China culminated with the establishing of the Manchurian Imperial State around 1932 and at the same time the first Japanese offensive against the city of Shanghai known also as the January 28 Incident.


The second attempt by Japan on the city came in 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War and was one of the major battles of that war known also as the Battle of Shanghai: After a period of 3 months fighting, large portions of the city fell to the Japanese, leaving the international settlement “free” and out of their reach. As hostilities continued and fear among the foreign powers grew, foreign armies present on the mainland began to withdraw, for example, the British withdrew its garrisons from Shanghai on August of 1940 (added image of an emergency script that was issued locally for use by the garrison troops around 1939, the period when Siege Currency was being produced due to the lack of funds entering the sieged city). A year later, after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese made a complete invasion and occupation of the city including the International Settlement. By the end of 1941, Shanghai was under full occupation.


But before all this was taking place, Shanghai was also an important safe haven for foreigners and mainly Jews, who were trying to escape hostilities back in their home in Europe.


The rise of Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP party to power in 1933 was a major turning point for the Jews living in the Continent, starting with Germany and then spreading to other communities and countries as well. With the violent actions that were being perpetrated upon the Jewish population growing day by day, coming in the form of anti-Jewish legislation (starting already in 1933) and anti-Semitic physical attacks, reaching the pinnacle with the Kristallnacht atrocities in 1938, the Jews saw that the only way to escape and survive was to leave Germany and to leave Europe as well. Those who were lucky and strong enough found refuge far away in the Far East, setting sail to find a safe haven in the Chinese coastal city of Shanghai.


The city was one of the few places, if not the only one, that did not require entry visas. The Chinese authorities, the Shanghai Municipal Council (SMC) for example, did not prevent anyone from entering the city if he or she did not carry a Chinese visa, thus applying for one at the end was not necessary (still, in most cases, one needed a final destination visa inside the passport if one wanted to obtain transit visas as well, thus if one obtained the US visa, for example, other needed transit visas could be applied for with relative “ease”: Japanese, Soviet, Lithuania or Latvian, Italian etc). Some passports by having the Chinese visa applied inside would include also special temporary transit visas being issued by the British or Italian consulates, for example.


Thus, from the period of 1938 to around 1941, Shanghai gave refuge to around 30,000 Jews who fled Europe, with a large section of them arriving from Germany, Austria and Poland.


The passport and added images in this article relate to the period of 1943 to 1945, the time of the formation of the Shanghai Ghetto.


Polish passport number 448/729/32/VIII/41 was issued in Tokyo on August 27th 1941 to Jewish Mir yeshiva student named Szymon Gitelis aged 26 who fled occupied Lithuania a year earlier (was issued a Sugihara life-saving-visa numbered 1114) and arrived in Kobe, Japan where a temporarily new Yeshiva was opened around March of 1941. But, following the Japanese severing of ties with the Polish Government in Exile around October of that year and worsening conditions towards the Jews on the island, Japan deported close to 1,000 Jews, with Szymon among them, and the staff of the Polish embassy as well to the occupied city of Shanghai.


The passport was issued to Szymon (GRATIS under clause 11 for stateless or refugees) 2 months before he was deported to Shanghai, and was extended on December 9th by the same Polish diplomat who issued him the passport back in Tokyo: Secretary Karol Staniszewski (he was attaché to the Polish consulate at Toulouse in 1936). An addition needs to be added here: Due to the fall of France, who up to the beginning of 1940 was in charge of printing Polish passports for the Government in Exile, the passport here was printed by William Clowes & Sons., Ltd., London and Beccles 25.xi.40, as indicated on the last page.


The most interesting annotation inside the passport was made by the “Association Polonaise en Chine” and can be found on pages 9, 10 & 11. Since the passport holder was placed inside the Ghetto, we can assume that the “registration” in those pages was done inside as well. The passport was registered for the period of the war and signed by Dr. Stan. Tomaszewski.


Szymon was liberated in 1945 and had the passport extended again on June 26th 1946 at the Polish consulate in Nanjing by Stanislaw E. Kostraski (1920-2007) who was Poland’s chargé d’affaires in Nanjing before the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949.


I have added images of the passport, French invoice issued by the municipality, emergency British Forces in Shanghai 1939-1940 script and map of the city from 1945 indicating the location of the ghetto in red.


similar passport can be found in an article previously written by me.



Smaller image source: Wikipedia.



Thank you for reading “Our Passports”.

Neil Kaplan
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