Envelopes & Postcards


The Hongkew Era

Ralph Harpuder

As already stated in my previous reports, it is always nice for a Shanghailander*, and philatelist like me, to come across something that takes us back, at least momentarily, to the days of the Shanghai Jewish Ghetto where many of us spent our youth in good times and in bad. Thanks to my philatelic colleagues who keep me informed on old Shanghai mail, here are some examples yours truly recently acquired:

a)       A picture postcard sent by a Jewish refugee from Shanghai to Vienna (Figure one)
b)       An envelope mailed from Austria to a Jewish refugee in Shanghai (Figure two).
c)       An official envelope mailed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC or JOINT) from Shanghai to its main office in New York City (Figure three).

The postcard shown in Figure one is franked with a 30 cent stamp (Scott 321) that was issued by the Republic of China between the years 1932 and 1934. It bears a rubber stamp with the German Eagle and the notorious Swastika, and a rubberstamp with the familiar censor mark.

The picture on the postcard shows the most modern hotel in the Orient at the time, “The Park Hotel,” overlooking the Race Course. It was located in the upscale part of the Settlement which was off-limits to most Jewish refugees during WW-2.

The message on the postcard sent in 1940 does not clearly identify the relationship between the sender and the addressee. With war clouds on the rise, it was a time of uncertainty for all the Jewish refugees that had just arrived in Shanghai, and for those anxiously waiting to get out of Germany and Austria. 

Note that both Vienna (in Austria) and Germany appear in the address of the postcard. The sender was probably not sure how to address the postcard because of the event of March 12, 1938, i.e. the annexation of Austria into Greater Germany by the Nazis. This day, as we know, was referred to by historians as “Der Anschluss.” 

The envelope illustrated in Figure two was mailed from Austria to Shanghai, and was franked with a 25+100 Pfennig stamp (Scott B-172); the surtax was for Hitler’s National Culture Fund. The envelope was opened by Nazi postal officials and sealed again with the often used brown adhesive tape with the word printed “Geöffnet” (opened). To make sure that the letter would safely arrive, the words “via Siberia” had to be written on the envelope by the sender. The reason was that when the Mediterranean was closed by Italy’s entry into the war in June of 1940, the only way for any mail to reach Shanghai was to send it via the land route across Russia and Siberia (See Israel Philatelist-April, 2001, “Refugees and the Mail To and From Shanghai”). “Erich Jellinek, to whom the letter was sent to, lived at the Alcock Heim, a refugee camp and dormitory with bunk beds in the heart of the Shanghai Hongkew Jewish Ghetto. The address, 66 Alcock Road shown on the envelope was also the location of the Kitchen Fund that raised funds to serve over 5,000 hot meals daily for hungry Jewish refugees; and the office of the Welfare Agency that served the Jewish Community in the ghetto. A photograph of the building is shown in Figure 2a.

It was not long after the letter was sent when the war broke out, that ended all mail deliveries from Nazi Europe to China.

The envelope illustrated in Figure three was an official piece of mail sent by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Shanghai as late as 1948, a year before Mao took power. The four three cent stamps on the envelope (Scott 688) with a surcharge and overprint of 500 Yuan, issued between 1946 and 1947, show a portrait of Sun Yat-sen. The single stamp (Scott 563) was issued between 1944 and 1946, and shows a different portrait of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The envelope was mailed to the main office of JDC in New York City.  

Founded in 1914 to assist Palestinian Jews caught in the struggle of WW-1, JDC has aided millions of Jews in more than 85 countries.

As Hitler consolidated power between 1933 and 1939, it accelerated its aid to German Jewry. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, JDC channeled aid to Jewish refugees in Shanghai through connections its Swiss office had established with neutral embassies and the International Red Cross. It had become nearly the sole source of support for the Jewish refugees in Shanghai.

Being very much involved in my hobby, “Philately and Documents of WW-2 European Jewry,” yours truly will continue to seek material from the annals of WW-2 that affected Jews at large in China and world wide.

*Refugees from Europe in the late 1930’s, now living in other countries that found refuge in Shanghai. 

Ralph Harpuder, who grew up in Shanghai, China during the war, is a free lance writer He is currently a contributing editor for the Israel Philatelist, and also had several of his articles appear in the prestigious philatelic journal, the American Philatelist, and in the Israel-Judaica Collector published in the UK.



Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 2a&3