If you were to go back in time to the early 1900s and walk certain sections of Shanghai, you’d likely see kosher butcher shops in place of noodle stands and newspapers and signage printed in German, Yiddish and Polish. Two major waves of Jewish immigrants arrived in Shanghai over the years: the first arriving in the early 1900s to take advantage of economic opportunities and the second during World War II, as refugees from Hitler’s Nazis. Shanghai was one of the few cities in the world that freely welcomed fleeing Jews and some scholars believe the city was responsible for saving more of them than the entire Commonwealth.
While Shanghai’s Jewish population has since scattered to other parts of the world, the cultural heritage of this unique community remains. Get a summary of the history and culture of the Jewish community in Shanghai with a visit to the Ohel Moshe Synagogue, a restored building that currently houses the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum. The collection of photographs and artifacts elucidate the significance of the Jewish presence in Shanghai’s history.
The area around the synagogue, known as Hongkou Ghetto or ‘Little Vienna,’ was where invading Japanese forces in 1937 interred the Jewish community. It was also where the more than 20,000 war refugees of the 1940s flocked to, many sharing a single room with multiple families.
If you visit Shanghai’s iconic Bund along the river, look for the freshly restored Peace Hotel, formerly called the Cathay Hotel. Built by the wealthy Sassoon family, the Peace Hotel epitomized the opulence of Shanghai in the early 1900s when it was considered to be the Paris of the East.