October 2017

Hong Kong Refuge Research Project

In the 1930s and 1940s, an estimated 18,000 central European Jewish refugees escaped Nazi terror in the new Greater Germany to the ‘safe haven’ of Shanghai, then one of the only open doors available to persecuted Jews. HKHP’s ‘Hong Kong Refuge’ project examines the lesser-known history of Hong Kong in the migration and survival of  Jewish refugees before and after the Second World War. The project will be the first to document refugee lives in the former British colony and consider links between Hong Kong and Shanghai in this refugee migration.

Refugees Arrive
In the 1930s, amidst a wider Chinese refugee crisis, a small group of Jewish refugees came to Hong Kong to work as musicians, engineers and dress makers. They found jobs despite Hong Kong’s strict immigration control thanks to the existing Jewish community, British intellectual progressives and through their own family connections. In September 1939, Austrian and German Jews were interned as ‘enemy aliens’ and in 1940 they were ordered to leave the colony by the Hong Kong Government. Most subsequently spent the duration of the Second World War confined to Shanghai’s infamous Hongkew Ghetto.

Transit Hong Kong
In the post-war years, the port of Hong Kong again played a complex and little understood role in the migration of refugees from China. The second part of this project seeks to uncover the work of the Jewish Community in facilitating refugee transit in partnership with Jewish and non-Jewish aid agencies operating in and around Hong Kong, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the International Refugee Organisation, and record the experiences of those transiting through the colony, which included European as well as Russian Jews.

Research Status
Since the project was launched in 2015, research has been conducted in over twenty archives located in Ohio, New York, London and Hong Kong. Together, these new archival sources, along with oral history interviews, piece together the history of Jewish refuge in Asia. To get in touch or find out more about the project, please follow our our dedicated blog, which chronicles the team’s research journey.

The HKHP research project is supported by the American Jewish Archives and the Sino-Judaic Institute.