The Jews in the Shanghai Ghetto  

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Commemorated on a Philatelic Label


Ralph Harpuder


Once in a while we see a postage stamp attached to a label or tab commemorating a special time in history familiar only to a specific group of people.

Such was the case when the Shanghai Philatelic Corporation * produced a philatelic item consisting of a previously issued stamp (Scott 3290), attached to a label illustrating a Jewish landmark in the Hongkew Ghetto. The complete sheet of stamps is illustrated in Figure one. The 80 fen stamp alone, released on August 2003, was designed by Feng Xiachong and shows a Chinese junk

The stamp with the label was issued by China in conjunction with a subject exhibition and academic forum commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of fascism and the period before and after when Chinese and Jews were living in harmony under trying circumstances in the ghetto. 

During the 1930’s Nazi’s policy and severe persecution toward Jews prompted Jewish emigration from Germany and Austria, and a passenger ticket to another country enabled a person to gain release, even from a concentration camp. Since most countries in the world were limiting or denying entry to Jews, a ticket to Shanghai was the only option.

 The stamps with the label were valid for postage only during the time of the event.A portfolio in gold color containing the sheet of stamps with a brief history of that period was distributed to all the invited guests, most of whom were former Jewish refugees in Shanghai that included our Rickshaw Webmaster, Rene Willdorff and our valuable historian, Sonja Mühlberger. The souvenir folder housing the stamps and the article is shown in Figure two and three respectively.

The label attached to the stamp, mentioned above, shows the Ohel Moshe Synagogue, a large three-story building built in 1927 by Russian orthodox Jews after they fled the pogroms and settled in Shanghai. Located at 62 Ward Road in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto, the synagogue was built with the help of Rabbi Ashkenazi, a member of the Lubavitch Hassidic group who was during his 21 year stay in Shanghai in the forefront of all humanitarian communal activities.

In December, 1939 after the last wave of immigrants arrived from Nazi occupied lands, the Talmud Torah at the Ohel Moshe Synagogue was established It was a religious school where boys were taught to read Hebrew prayers four afternoons a week after their regular school hours, and on Sunday mornings. The courtyard behind the synagogue housed a bakery in a one-story house. It was used primarily before Passover to bake matzos that were rationed for the refugees in the ghetto.

During my return visit to Shanghai with my wife in 1999, where I spent my formative years in the ghetto, we went to the former synagogue that, to my dismay has become a print shop with all the interior and religious artifacts removed. The classrooms of the Talmud Torah, however, were intact and became the Museum of Jewish Refugees in Shanghai. A photograph of the building and the former Talmud Torah School, shot at approximately the same angle as shown on the label can be found in Figure four. The third floor where all the beginning classes were conducted, became the museum‘s main exhibition space and consists of a room with photographs of Jewish refugees in Shanghai from the 30‘s and 40‘s. A photograph of Mr. Wang Fa Liang, administrator of the museum, examining the archives of Shanghailanders (Jewish refugees that lived during wartime in Shanghai), and a second photograph, again of the administrator, my wife and yours truly, were both taken in one of the former Talmud Torah classrooms and are shown in Figure five.

Plans to preserve parts of the former Jewish Ghetto are currently in process. A monument honoring the Jewish community in Shanghai during the 40‘s has already been erected, while today, tombstones of Jews that did not survive the ghetto years, are being gathered and kept for posterity. To quote the article inside the portfolio “Shanghai receiving and protecting European Jewish refugees holds a position of great significance in the history of World War II” and that “Shanghai has now become the synonym of Rescue and Haven in the annals of the Holocaust.”


*The Beijing Stamp Factory, established in 1959, was the first factory in China to specifically print stamps. Since then, the postal sectors, like the Shanghai Philatelic Corporation, began to print stamps by themselves.


Portfolio with stamps and description, courtesy Sonja Mülberger