Living in a ghetto comes with some great disadvantages but the economical is the biggest one of them. One could hardly find a job. Luckily today internet is everywhere and everyone can work online where the Brit Method is just one of the options.
The many ways Jewish refugees have utilized their experiences in trade and commerce to survive the War Years in Shanghai is already well explained and documented by scholars and authors from their extensive research on the Jews from Shanghai.
As most of us know, anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews represented from the beginning a central tenet of Nazi ideology. With the formation of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, many Jews were denied to embark on a career in Professional Civil Service. And because the Nuremberg Laws restricted the number of Jewish students at German schools and universities, many entered after 1935 into the business world and thus became either independent merchants or part of an already established family business. An example was the factory founded by my grandfather, shown in Figure one that was later taken over by my father in 1936. The plant which was ransacked by the Nazis only a few weeks before my family immigrated to Shanghai, produced sacks and tarpaulins for transporting commercial and domestic equipment. The factory and warehouse my parents had to leave behind is shown in Figure two.
When Hitler came to power, Jews in Germany and Austria were often referred to by the negative connotation, “wheel and deal,” as evidenced by the anti-Semitic post cards shown in Figure three.
Whereas many refugees upon arriving in Shanghai in the late 30’s had already acquired their business experience, they were able to successfully open and operate their own retail stores and food establishments that served the Shanghai Ghetto community at large. Of course, it also required some immediate cash obtained usually by selling a few heirlooms such as gold coins, jewelry or stamp collections, that stateless refugees managed to sneak out of the country. During the height of emigration in the late 30’s checkpoints were placed at the border between Germany and Switzerland, with Nazis on the German side confiscating personal valuables from fleeing refugees. Precious jewelry was literally torn off from under their clothes at the Brenner Pass before they were able to safely arrive in Genoa. Fortunately, my parents were among those few who found most of their belongings intact after they arrived in Shanghai since they were shipped earlier by freight. Thus with the money they got in exchange for their valuables they were able to open a provision store, shown in Figure four. Later, when delicatessen, such as homemade potato salad with herring or beets became less affordable, my father opened an ice business illustrated in Figure five.
Albeit, Shanghai was considered a safe haven, white-collar workers, who by profession were writers, historians, bank officials, and bookkeepers, still had to struggle to make a living in, that was for them, a new and strange surrounding while a few, like my father, were dying of malnutrition.
It is appropriate at this point to mention that those that excelled in a trade, and there were not many (remember the old stereotype cliché, especially in Germany, ‘ A Jew works with his head, not his hands,) never had to worry where the next meal came from since their type of work was always in demand. Examples were radio technology, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, shoe repair, even landscaping shown in Figure six. Those respective workshops played an important part in the ghetto and were also found in the classified ads in local Jewish newspapers shown on the following pages.
As we browse through the pages of advertisements*, we see the diversity of retail operations, including restaurants and coffee shops, wholesalers and crafts, etc. that were run primarily by Jewish refugees in the ghetto**. Many of those businesses were located on Kumping Road, shown in Figure seven, Chusan Road, and in many lanes at Tongshan Road and Ward Road all considered main thoroughfares of Hongkew.
Trained exterminators were also part of the business community who made their money exterminating rats and bed bugs in many infested dwellings located in lanes and heime throughout the Hongkew Ghetto.
Several refugees operated their food concessions in public markets located in the Settlement, shown in Figure eight, and later in the heart of the ghetto. Most of the provision stores mentioned in this report had their goods supplied by refugee food processors that brought their experience in food manufacturing to Shanghai. Examples were all kinds of beverages like carbonated soft drinks, sausages, jams and honey, and of course bakery goods. Non-food items such as soap and various other household items were also manufactured by refugees and were sold in many of the stores in the ghetto. Those ads are also shown on the pages that follow.
In spite of the hard times, most restaurants, and Konditoreien (coffee houses) were usually busy, and were, of course patronized only by those that had some cash on hand. Here, again it required the knowledge of running a business, and the necessary training in food preparation and baking that operators brought along from the old country.
A few innovative refugees that could not afford financially to run their business from a fixed location sold their products by foot. For example, a few were selling candies or cigarettes off a tray on the street that was attached to a strap and hung over their neck. This was called in German, “Ein Bauch-Laden.” Most of the sweets they sold were supplied by my father, who worked as a wholesale distributor in Hongkew for the popular “Modern Candy Factory,” a large Jewish enterprise, located outside the ghetto illustrated in Figure nine.
There were some that made their living, referred to in those days, in the popular schmatte business (garments and textiles), not illustrated on the pages, which required a lot of footwork. They usually had to leave the Designated Area, only with special permission from the Japanese commander in charge of the Jews in the ghetto, to sell enough of their merchandize to make a living.
Yours truly hopes that many of the Shanghailanders alive today will have some fond memories of their parents patronizing the stores, bakeries and restaurants illustrated in the report.
This report refers to only those establishments located in the Jewish Ghetto also known as the “Designated Area,” or Hongkew. Those refugees that came to Shanghai before a certain time were allowed by the Japanese authorities to keep their stores outside the ghetto.
** The ads illustrated in this report do not necessarily represent all the stores that were in operation in the ghetto during that time.
This report like the previous ones listed on the Rickshaw Website tells about life in the Shanghai which is already well edged in the memories of our Shanghailanders. Because of the recent interest generated by our younger generation and many researchers about the life of Jews in Shanghai during and before WW- II, it is this writer’s intention to continue to present a more detailed insight of this small but important part of our Jewish history for our posterity that yours truly acquired, although at a young age, from a personal experience.