The Ghetto Era


Ralph Harpuder



Hanukkah was always observed and celebrated in the Shanghai ghetto with hope, and in the best way we could, in spite of the circumstances and conditions which surrounded Jewish refugees at the time.

Some lost all their possessions and Judaic heirlooms while fleeing from the Nazis, and did not have a menorah to light Hanukkah candles at their private, or not so private, primitive dwelling. Some parents may not have been financially able to buy a special toy for their child for Hanukkah. Thanks to my parents, there was always a little board game or a small set of color crayons waiting for me on the first night of Hanukkah, sometimes at a time when the question was asked, “Where do we take our next meal from?” Fortunately, there were a number of Hanukkah activities that took place almost each year which enabled children to partake in the “Festival of Lights.” Many of the functions were sponsored by the more well to do Sephardic Jews including the Kadoories, and were usually held at the SJYA School.

For the adult audience, there were larger performances and plays held in local movie theaters and in the Heime, with some of the most popular entertainers on stage. However, during the later part of the war, there was a considerable risk in conducting mass cultural activities, like a large Hanukkah gathering, since they were a cause of suspicion on the part of the Japanese authority.

One of several early Hanukkah events, shown in figure one, was sponsored by the Juedisch-Liberalen Gemeinde (Jewish Liberal Organization), and was held at the SJYA School, then located on Kingchow Road. The organization hosting the event was established by refugees that were brought up in the liberal tradition who felt strange at an orthodox service.

An announcement for a Hanukkah Maccabee Celebration in 1943 is shown in figure two. This event was presented by the Zionistische Organisation Shanghai (ZOS), and was held at the new location of the SJYA School. The Zionist Organization Shanghai consisted formerly of three independent organizations that merged by reason of the necessity of all refugees to relocate to the ghetto in 1943.

Another Hanukkah celebration held at the Alcock Theatersall, also in 1943, is shown on an announcement in figure three.

Two other announcements, a Hanukkah Ball and a Gala Hanukkah Folk Celebration, are illustrated in figure four and figure five respectively. The later event was hosted by Poale-Zio, a left wing Polish Zionist group. A complete program of a Hanukkah performance held in 1947 at the Eastern Theater is shown in figure six. The performance was sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and featured many favorite performers including Gerhard Gottschalk and Lily Flohr. Charles Jordan, representative of the Joint, greeted all the refugees in the audience and spoke a few words of welcome. Jordan, who was born in Philadelphia, became connected with Joint in Shanghai after the war and as the chief director of the organization, helped many Jewish refugees obtain affidavits. He died mysteriously in Prague in 1967.

Today, Jews can celebrate Hanukkah most anywhere in the world, without being restricted to a designated area by a dictatorial authority. Let us all be thankful for that.