To read or print the full article


by Peter Nash, Sydney, Australia


Before 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 International Settlement's ruling body was the Shanghai Municipal Council, a citizen group. Its law enforcement arm, the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP), included Chinese, Indian, Russian and Japanese officers, but the most senior officers were British.

Before WW2, Shanghai was also 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 these SMP intelligence files from an article in the International Review of Jewish Genealogy publication Avotaynu. I also came across a chapter in "The Jews of China" by Marcia R Ristaino (Historian and Senior Chinese Acquisitions 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. 

The potential genealogical data relevant to the 20,000 Central European Jewish refugees and Russian and Sephardic Jews that resided in Shanghai in the 1938 to 1945+ period interested me. 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.

(Click to read the full article)