The Shammos of Shanghai

By Ralph Harpuder


Fig. 3




A number of former Jewish refugees that fled Nazi Europe in the late 30’s were still fortunate to find the only safe haven open to them called Shanghai. A few of those wish to suppress their memories of that period and not talk about it anymore while others who went through this same ordeal wish to continue to pay tribute to the Chinese people for welcoming us and allowing us to live in propinquity and harmoniously among them. 

One of those gentlemen was Wang Fa Liang who very recently passed away on April 30, 2008 at the age of ninety.  A memorial celebration was held on May 2nd shown in Figure one and Figure Two.

Mr. Wang worked since the early 1990’s as the English speaking guide at the Ohel Moishe Synagogue at 62 Chang Yang Road, formerly called Ward Road (Figure Three.) The synagogue, today part of a publishing house and a museum with an extensive collection of photos and documents from the Hongkew Era, became established in 1902 as the number of Russian Jews in Shanghai increased to approx. 25 families. Five years later it became known as the Ohel Moishe Synagogue named after Moishe Greenberg, one of the early Russian settlers. A photograph of Mr., Wang posing with Yvonne Harpuder in front of the synagogue was taken in 1999 (Figure Four.)   It was also there where the Talmud Torah School was located with Jewish refugee children studying Hebrew. During the tour of the former synagogue, Yvonne points to an original mezuzah on the door frame leading to one of the former classrooms while Mr. Wang delightedly and joyfully looks on (Figure Five.)   

Mr. Wang Fa Liang was deservingly dubbed by the title, “the shammos” of the old ghetto, or as it was called during the war years “the designated area” and with his loving character, gentle smile and knowledge, and of course his close contact with Jewish refuges during the war years, he thus became the story teller of the mutual hardship shared by the Chinese and Jewish refugees during WW2.

He has lived in the neighborhood, which was also the home to approx. 18,000 Jews, from Hitler’s Europe,  all his life and was always delighted in showing former Shanghailanders or visitors that have not forgotten their past the streets and places which they remembered so vividly upon their return visit. To help reminisce about some of the good times as well as the more trying days he enthusiastically took them to places that were immediately familiar to them including the park, called in those days, “Der Kleine Wayside Park” where a monument was erected honoring the Jews that lived in Shanghai; the former Emigrant Hospital at the Ward Road Heim; and what was once the Vienna Café on Chusan Road.

   Mr. Wang Fa Liang will be dearly missed by all future visitors to the old former Jewish ghetto in Shanghai.




David Kranzler, Japanese Nazis & Jews, 1976

Dvir Bar-Gal, Tours of Jewish Shanghai

Gary Matzdorff