'Little Vienna' in Shanghai (Haaretz, 26/11)

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  • Date de début


Membre Gold
15 Mai 2004
`Little Vienna' in Shanghai

By Amiram Barkat

In the past year the preservation of the Jewish heritage in China has become a relevant issue. The Israeli researcher Rebecca Bitterman, who recently visited Shanghai, was surprised to discover that guided tours are available about the city's Jewish past. Bitterman, the curator of Asian art at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and an expert on Chinese art, joined a tour of the Hongkou District (formerly the city's Jewish quarter). About 30,000 Jewish refugees from Europe arrived in Shanghai during the Second World War, when Shanghai was one of the few places in the world that admitted Jews without requiring a visa. "My impression is that this historical episode constitutes a source of pride in Shanghai," Bitterman says.

The Jews established a kind of Central European preserve which in the period of the Japanese occupation became a true ghetto. After the war the majority of the Jews left, and during the Communist period the neighborhood lost all vestiges of a Jewish presence. In the past few years, with the tremendous construction boom in Shanghai, there has been talk of demolishing the neighborhood as part of a vast construction project worth $1.3 billion. In August of this year the Shanghai municipal authorities stated that the remnants of about 50 historical structures in the former Jewish neighborhood would be preserved.

"We want to reconstruct the atmosphere of the `little Vienna of Shanghai' that existed here during the war years," a representative of the municipality told reporters. Canadian experts were hired to supervise the reconstruction of buildings such as the Vienna Cafe, the Yiddish theater and the Mosi's Synagogue, visited by former U.S. president Bill Clinton on his official visit to China in 1998. The authorities also have the go-ahead for the establishment of a Jewish museum and a monument in memory of the Jews who were killed in the war.

Four months ago the state news agency of China announced that the two synagogues and the Jewish school in Harbin will also be renovated, at a budget of $3.5 million, to be provided by the district governor. At the beginning of the 20th century Harbin absorbed thousands of Jews who fled from Russia. In that same month, by the way, the city of Hegang, in northeast China, donated $12,000 to the Jewish community in the Birobijan district, across the border with Russia, for the purchase of computers for the Jewish school.