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by Peter Nash, Sydney, Australia

Some historical background: prior to the Communist take-over in September 1949, Shanghai was a cosmopolitan city with three independent sectors: the French Concession, the International Settlement and the Chinese Municipality of Greater Shanghai which included Hongkew where most of the Jewish refugees either lived after arrival circa 1938 to 1940 or were forced to live from 1943. The Chinese Municipality was the largest, but the International Settlement was the city’s commercial and industrial centre, also the trading port with fashionable clubs, hotels and consulates and … a constant ebb and flow of political intrigue forming a part of world politics. Its ruling body was the Shanghai Municipal Council, a citizen group which in reality was controlled by British interests. Its law enforcement arm, the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP), included Chinese, Indian, Russian and Japanese officers, but the most senior officers were British. As a centre of political activity, Shanghai was a natural target for intelligence operations by several powers, particularly Russian, Chinese, Japanese and also key western countries.

I first heard of the existence of the SMP files from an article in the International Review of Jewish Genealogy publication Avotaynu1. I also came across a chapter in “The Jews of China”2 by Marcia R Ristaino (Historian and Senior Chinese Acquisations Specialist at the Library of Congress, Washington DC) in which she describes the background to the SMP files – also see her book “Port of Last Resort”3. The files cover the period 1894-1949 and are housed at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA II] in College Park, Maryland, just outside of Washington DC. They are a collection of Shanghai Municipal Police investigation files used for intelligence gathering by British agencies. Following the attack on Pearl Harbour by Japan in December 1941 and their subsequent military control of Shanghai, the Japanese left the collection of files intact and apparently only removed reports on Japanese personalities. The eventual transfer of the files in 1949 just prior to the Communist take-over, from the Nationalist Chinese to American Strategic Services officers based in Shanghai (forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency) is a hair-raising story in itself. When the files were hurriedly loaded on board an American warship, some of the boxes fell into the Whangpoo River; others were damaged when the ship transporting them ran into a typhoon. Luckily most of the files safely reached Japan, and eventually the United States.

My interest was sparked by the potential genealogical data relevant to the 20,000 Central European Jewish refugees and an estimated 10,000 Russian and Sephardic Jews that resided in Shanghai in the 1938 to 1945+ period. So my planned visit to Washington DC in July 2003 for an International Jewish Genealogy Conference included some time to access these files. I was not prepared for the vast amount of files containing astonishing reports for all kinds of citizens as well as various lists of Jewish residents.

I was confronted with the daunting task of deciding which of about 67 microfilm rolls and about 120 archival boxes to order from an off-site central storage, also allowing for one to two days retrieval time. Some files exist only on film and others only on paper and some on film and paper. Fortunately a finding aid was created and published: M1750, which describes briefly the nature of the contents of the files in the Records of the SMP covering the period 1849-1949 – otherwise known as the Central Intelligence Agency Record Group 263. It must be added that the collection also contains ‘Related Records’ such as records from Tsingtao – a naval port north of Shanghai (now Qingdao).

With the help of John Taylor, Archivist in the Military Records Division of NARA II, I viewed the Pamphlet describing the contents of M1750 (obtainable from the Publications Division at NARA I in Washington DC). M1750 has about 180 pages and 3500 files which are described in mundane, mysterious and also tantalising ways, for example

“Report on a substance supposed to be varnish”; “Report of purchase of Royale typewriter”; “Periodical service corporation advertising for salesgirls”; “Confession of Chulkoff”; “Raids on communist bases”; “Murder in the French Concession of a Korean”; “Arrival of Soviet agent”; “Rumours re sudden death of Mrs. V. Kolotinsky”; “H.E. Duldner – Austrian Jew”, “Central European Jews, arrival in Shanghai, list of professions … immigration certificates and endorsement of identification”; and so on …..

In order to maximize my limited time I decided to access files for the period of 1940-1945 and requested Box 117 containing a Folder with the intriguing title: “Re letter submitted by Mr. Kahan, Headmaster of Shanghai Jewish School” – my former headmaster and school! Its contents? Figures 1,1a

“The undersigned begs to support that the petitioner Mr. Kahan is the headmaster of the Shanghai Jewish School, No. 544 Seymour Road. The programme is as per attached and contains nothing objectionable. It will start at about 3 p.m. on March 21, 1943 and end about 6 p.m. Approximately 400 persons will attend. No admission fee is charged. There is no objection to the approval of this letter – signed (not legible) D.S., Officer-in-Charge, Special Branch (District Superintendent?)”.

The attachments to Mr. Kahan’s letter include a Program of Prize distribution (“for good work during 1942”) and entertainment to be held at the SJS on the day of the Purim holiday. The attachments describing the entertainment included
– the story of Purim with the full play and characters (by Form III and IV pupils) typed out in English and also written out in Hebrew (!)
– a gymnastic number
– musical numbers on piano and cello: “Pop goes the weasel”, “Twinkle, twinkle little star” and “Old King Cole”(!!!)

Very nostalgic, rivetting and fascinating! Especially as such an ‘important’ investigative file is part of the Military Records Division of NARA, housed in a building, funded by the tax-paying citizens of the United States!

The box I chose also contained a very thick SMP file labelled “Jewish Affairs”. What a mine of amazing information this was! Virtually all Reports (in English and typed!) came from the Foreign Affairs Section of the SMP including for example as follows:

29 March 1943: Extracts from the Shanghai Jewish Chronicle concerning Shanghai Ashkenazi Collaborating Relief Association (SACRA.) and Joint Administrative Committee (JAC) including the names of the SACRA and JAC committees.

7 April 1943: Affiliation of the Jewish (sic) Gemeinde to SACRA – with names and addresses of executive members, names of delegates to JAC, matters relating to the 18 February 1943 Proclamation (re-settlement in the Designated Area], etc.

22 May 1943: Stateless Refugees – Removal to the Designated Area. “In connection with the removal of the Stateless Refugees into the Designated Area it can be stated that the majority, about 90%, have now moved into the area or together with the persons who were already residents of the area, there are at present not less than 13,600 stateless refugees, of whom about 6,600 moved into the area and about 7,000 lived inside the area”. Figures 2, 2a

The file then gives statistics of special circumstances for prolongation before moving; the steps required for obtaining Special Passes to leave the Designated Area; the problems with Polish refugees (Mir Yeshiva?) not wishing to move into the Salvation Army Shelter at 630 Muirhead Road.

12 June 1943: “Rooms sold by SACRA in the Yuhang Road School (the former Chinese Middle School) for availability to refugees – with details of number of rooms, sizes, chargeable rent, repair liabilities, etc.” The Report also covers the refugee problems of income earning and housing – and their dissatisfaction with SACRA’s attitude to their problems. Opinions are also expressed on alleged profiteering by the Russian Jews from the refugees.

12 June 1943: Financial Conditions of Refugee Families

21 July 1943: Report on SACRA Meeting of Supporters at the Shanghai Jewish Club on 20 July 1943. Comment included: “Dr. A.J. Cohn (Chairman) … thanking first of all Mr. T. Kubota (Director-General of the Shanghai Stateless Refugee Bureau) and Mr. Kano for their attendance … “; “A. Oppenheim spoke about … the Charity Section … the Kitchen Fund is supporting over 4,000 persons with one loaf of bread (9ozs) and one hot meal … The Kitchen Fund requires $ 800,000 every month, but can raise only … $ 500,000”; “… although already twice stated by Mr. Kubota that the Proclamation is not an anti-semitic measure, none of the Jews believe this statement and believe that the restrictions against the Jews have been made through the influence of the Nanking Government… “.

11 August 1943: Report on “The Situation of Refugees after the Start and Segregation on Aug 10 1943” – describes the plight of refugees when their limited resources run out and the need to obtain passes to leave the Designated Area (‘Ghetto’). Also highlights the problems of refugees having entered the ‘Ghetto’ then wishing to leave it.

20 December 1943: Letter from SACRA – “The Relief Committee of SACRA hereby applies for permission to make a collection of old clothing during Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, December 26, 27, 28. This clothing is intended for distribution among the poorer classes of Refugees living at present in the Designated Area. The collection will be made by seven groups of young men and girls, who will call on the dates specified at the homes of Jewish families in the First and Eighth Districts, in accordance with lists attached hereto. No collection whatsoever will be made on the streets. … Trusting that this permit will be granted …”. This is followed by : “In view of the good purpose of the collection … there is no … Police objection.” Figures 3, 3a, 3b, 3c

The attached List of Collectors contains the names of the thirty ‘young men and girls’ and the List of Jewish Families to be Visited contains over 500 family names and their addresses. All the families named seem to be from the Russian Ashkenazi community living in the French District. This is exceptional data as other databases, such as the re-produced Emigranten Adressbuch (November 1938), the 1943-1944 Gross-Hongkew Census (re-produced on CD-ROM and attached to the book ‘Exil-Shanghai 1938-1947’ by Armbrüster, Kohlstruck and Mühlberger and the Shanghai HIAS Lists as featured in the article “Lost Shanghailanders” on the Rickshaw website, virtually only include the Central European refugees.

8 January 1944: “Notification from the Shanghai Refugee Bureau – All persons whose special passes have recently be (sic) confiscated by Police Headquarters, have to appear to-day, … at 10 a.m. in the office of Mr Ghoya, Room 4. The above refers to special passes which were taken from persons detained in connection with a raid on the Central Arcade district, held on Dec. 28th, 1943. The number special passes detained was 47.” What a frightening experience this must have been for these refugees – to be hauled in front of Mr. Ghoya – the self-proclaimed King of the Jews!!! Figure 4

10 January 1944: “Renewal of Blue Special Passes – Through the S’hai Jewish Chronicle of Jan 9th, 1944, the Shanghai Stateless Refugee Affairs Bureau informs that it will begin renewing blue special passes which will expire on Feb. 10th, 1944. They form the majority of passes issued and number over 2000 passes… a change of profession for the … special pass is not admissable, and persons doing so are to be punished according to circumstances … professions such as salesmen, representative, manager or agent are considered as of dubious nature if more than two destinations are to be reached or if longer working hours are demanded.” Lists with about 80 names of Blue and Pink Pass holders are attached showing address, age, nationality and profession.

March 1944: A file with Investigation Reports from the Wayside (Police) Station contained the complete biography of 24 Jewish refugees and some of their family members with vital data such as birth date and where born, how and when arrived in Shanghai, ID’s held, life history (in short) educational standard reached, language skills, vocations before and in Shanghai, income status, etc. Figure 5

The final section of the one-page Report is titled “Comment and Remarks” (of the Investigating Officer) and is the punch line. It is more or less the same in context for each Report, for example,
“He and his wife came to the Barcelona Cafe at about 9 p.m. on the 18th of March and were on the Ist floor. His wife was playing cards “RUMMY” with two of her sisters in law (named). He himself was looking at the game. Owing to the fact that his brother (named) is the partner of the Barcelona Cafe he stated that it is cheaper to go to the Cafe then to be at home, moreover so, because of light control. The play was not for money.”
“At about 8.30 p.m. on the 16th of March he and his brother who invited him, proceeded to the Barcelona Cafe for tea. At about 9.30 p.m. the authorities arrived, when his brother was detained and the Resident Certificate was confiscated from him and he was allowed later to proceed to his home.”

So – what was their offence? Nothing. However the “authorities” tried to nail them with something. The biggest ‘positive’ is the vast amount of family history existing in these reports – albeit for only a few of the refugees.

11 June 1945 (Zang Zoh Police Station – Special Branch) (after Germany’s surrender to the Allies in Europe): Rumours Among Jewish Refugees – “In the last few days information received directly from Jewish circles has shown that Jewish refugees are expecting to be released from the designated area in Hongkew. These rumours are very interesting and according to the Jews there are many signs in the political world which show plans are being made for the release of Jewish refugees from the designated area. Some Jewish circles in the city have said that an article has appeared in the local Japanese paper in which it was said that the Jewish refugees in the designated area are behaving very well and a hint was given about the liquidation of the designated area. It is one of many signs by which the Jews think that they will be released from the designated area.”

18 July 1945 (the day after the never-to-be-forgotten heavy US bombing in the Hongkew District]: Markets – “Under impression of July 17 bombings prices on share markets went down about 20% …. Reaction about the enemy bombings is difficult to describe at present. Certainly there is much pent-up anger at the Americans whose conduct is considered wanton and unnecessary, to say the least …”

19 July 1945: Air Raids July 17 and 18 – ” The foreign community is particularly stirred by the bombings of part of the Jewish District, up to now thought to be ‘bomb-proof’. One hopes that a quick report by Red Cross and by local ‘Joint’ and/or Jewish Community will be sent out to Switzerland so that the US Govt may learn about the outrages perpetrated on July 17 … For today, 19th, the majority of local foreigners looks forward to another “lunch music”, meaning bombings …”
A discourse is then given on further likely air raids, the consequent rise and influx of Chinese refugees, the political future of Japan, the breakdown of administrative control, etc.

As indicated earlier my primary interest was genealogy-related data. Box 79 under File 8263/2 contained a ‘List of German Refugees who arrived in Shanghai since 1937’. About 950 refugees were registered with the Zang Zoh Police Station and are not listed alphabetically but in groups by their street address – all addresses being in the French Concession. Clearly most of these refugees were forced to move to the Designated Area in Hongkew (the Shanghai Ghetto area) after the February 1943 Proclamation of the Designated Area. The list also includes date of birth, occupation and date of arrival in Shanghai.

File 8263/2 also contained a second list titled ‘List of German Nationals Residing in Shanghai’ numbering about 2,300 persons including some, but not many, Jewish Refugees – the exact number cannot be estimated as Refugee status is not given nor any other vital data. Also given were street addresses, all apparently in the French Concession.

The SMP and/or the Japanese military representatives scoured all the Jewish newspapers, were represented at official meetings, interviewed (interrogated?) refugees in public places, were always sniffing out possible connections and implications with and against themselves and their allies – Germany, Russia, etc – and their enemies – Britain, United States, etc.

Related Records: These include Microfilms of Registration Certificates of the Russian Emigrants Committee (a quasi-official body representing Russian interests) for 1944-45 and of Tsingtao Registration Cards for 1946-1949. The latter include biographical data of Russian and Central European Jews, sometimes with photos. However I did not have time to view these records.

The Shanghai and Tsingtao Municipal Police Records are a historian’s smorgasbord as well as an extremely valuable resource for genealogical research. All documents were de-classified and as five minute copy time limits are imposed I only managed to copy 100 sheets, a fraction of the collection.


1. Avotaynu Vol XVI No.1 (Spring 2000), p33 Publisher: Avotaynu, Inc., Bergenfield NJ

2. Marcia R. Ristaino, “The Jews of China Vol Two – A Sourcebook and Research Guide” Edited by Jonathan Goldstein, M.E. Sharpe Inc, Armonk, New York (2000) p135-151

3. Marcia R. Ristaino, “Port of Last Resort”, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA (2001)

Peter Nash (formerly Nachemstein) is a child Holocaust survivor from Berlin and found refuge in Shanghai from 1939 to 1949. Resident in Sydney since then he is a founding member of the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society and has researched widely the available resources for tracing the former European, Russian and Sephardic communities of China. [Email:]