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A Brief History of Jewish Community of Hong Kong 香港猶太社群簡史
Jews were amongst the first settlers to arrive in Hong Kong soon after the island was ceded to Britain following the Treaty of Nanking (1842). This early community consisted primarily of so-called ‘Baghdadi’ commercial entrepreneurs who migrated under the auspices of British imperial expansion from the Middle East, through India, and on to the China coast. The prime focus of their activities in Hong Kong was management of their commercial links with the Chinese treaty ports.
One of the earliest and most successful Jewish families to arrive in China during this period were the Sassoons. In 1900, there were around 165 Jews living in Hong Kong (as against a total population of 221,441 in 1891), most of whom were Baghdadi merchants working in, or connected to, Sassoon firms.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Russian and Eastern European Jews arrived in Hong Kong to escape antisemitic pogroms. In the 1930s, they were joined by German and Austrian Jews fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe, most of whom were travelling to ‘visa-free’ Shanghai. By 1939 there may have been 300 to 400 Jews in Hong Kong among a total population of 1.6 million.
In the post-war years, Hong Kong once again became a place of transmigration for Jews leaving China for Israel, America, and Australia. Jewish organisations such as the local Jewish Women’s Association and the international American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC - of which Horace Kadoorie was the Honorary Representative) helped Jewish refugees find new homes around the world.
The Sassoon Dynasty
The Sassoons opened two branches in Hong Kong: ‘Sassoon, Sons & Co.’ in 1857 and ‘E.D. Sassoon & Co.’ in 1867. They organised synagogue services and brought Baghdadi Jews – such as the Kadoories and Gubbays – to China and Hong Kong to work in their businesses. The Sassoons were also important players in Hong Kong’s wider commercial and political worlds. Arthur Sassoon served on the provisional committee that established HSBC, while Frederick Sassoon was elected to the Legislative Council. The Sassoon office in Hong Kong was closed in 1956.
沙宣家族的洋行於香港有兩家分行 – – 分別是於1857年和1867年成立的沙宣洋行和新沙宣洋行。家族負責組織猶太會堂崇拜，並因透過聘用嘉道理和古庇成員而將這兩個巴格達猶太家族帶來香港。沙宣家族活躍香港政商圈子，阿瑟沙宣是成立滙豐銀行的臨時委員會成員，腓得力沙宣則曾為立法局議員。洋行於1956年結束香港業務。
David Sassoon (seated) with his sons Elias David, Albert (Abdallah) and Sassoon David
The Jewish Cemetery
Jewish communal life formally began in Hong Kong in the mid-1850s with the opening of the Jewish Cemetery. The granting of land to Jews for burial purposes was the first official recognition of the Jewish community by the Hong Kong Government. The land on which the cemetery was built was purchased by the Sassoons from farmers in Wong Nei Chong. It was enlarged by a grant given by the Jewish Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Matthew Nathan, in 1904. The cemetery is still in use today, and is one of the few Jewish cemeteries in Asia that retains its original location.
The Jewish Cemetery of Hong Kong pictured in 2015
The Ohel Leah Synagogue
Hong Kong’s first formal synagogue was built in 1902 by Sassoon brothers Jacob, Edward, and Meyer, and named after their mother Leah. The synagogue houses many significant artefacts including early Torah scrolls possibly from the Chinese Jewish community of Kaifeng, dating back to the Ming Dynasty. The Ohel Leah Synagogue is a rare example of a synagogue in Asia which has been in almost constant use for worship since it was first built – with the exception of the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong. Lawrence Kadoorie became Trustee and later President of the Ohel Leah in the mid-1930s.
Rules and Regulations of the Ohel Leah Synagogue, dated 1902
Hong Kong’s Jewish Governor
Born in London in 1862, Sir Matthew Nathan was the first and only Jew to be appointed Governor of Hong Kong (1904 - 1907). He pioneered the early development of Kowloon with the opening of Nathan Road, today a major thoroughfare, and fast-tracked the Kowloon-Canton Railway project which connected Hong Kong to Mainland China. He also actively promoted education, particularly in technical fields. Nathan served as the Honorary President of the Ohel Leah Synagogue and extended the lease on the Jewish Cemetery. He left Hong Kong in 1907 and died in England in 1939.
Nathan Road in Kowloon was named after Sir Matthew Nathan
A Flourishing Social Scene
The Jewish Recreation Club (JRC) was founded in 1905 as a modest one-room building following a suggestion by Elly Kadoorie, who financed its expansion in 1909. Members enjoyed tennis, croquet, and bowls in the grounds adjacent to the Ohel Leah Synagogue. During the 1930s, when war in Europe and China loomed, leisure pursuits gave way to community service. Baghdadi Jewish refugees fleeing the Battle of Shanghai (1937) and European Jewish refugees escaping Nazism (1938 - 39) were sheltered at the club. During the Japanese Occupation, Japanese forces pulled the club down, but it was rebuilt in 1949.
猶太同樂會於1905年在艾利嘉道理的建議下成立，當時只是一個小房間，及後得到艾利的財政支持於1909年擴充。會員可在莉亞堂旁邊的地方享受網球、槌球和草地滾球遊樂。1930年代歐洲和中國戰雲密佈，同樂會轉爲援助難胞。1937年因淞滬會戰離開上海的巴格達猶太人，以及1938 – 1939年間逃避納粹迫害從歐洲來港的猶太人，在同樂會的協助下皆得到庇護。會址在日佔時期被日軍拆毁，1949年得以重建。
Leaflet advertising a Purim Ball held at the Jewish Recreation Club in 1950
A Growing Community
Hong Kong’s Jewish population started to increase in the 1930s. While a small core of the community remained Baghdadi, Russian Jews such as Dr Solomon Bard arrived in Hong Kong in greater numbers following the occupation of Harbin by the Japanese in 1932. They were joined by European Jews in 1938, when Hitler’s antisemitic persecution intensified. The List of Subscribers document shows Hong Kong’s long-standing Baghdadi families in 1939: the Josephs, Kadoories, Gubbays, Abrahams and Raymonds. Other names such as Monia Talan (Russian), Harry Oscar Odell (Russian) and Dr Siegfried Szarfstein Ramler (Polish) reveals a significant non-Baghdadi presence.
香港猶太人數目由1930年代起逐漸增加。雖然核心人口仍是巴格達猶太人，在1932年日軍攻佔哈爾濱後，俄羅斯猶太人(例如白德博士是其中之一)南來香港，希特拉1938年反猶迫害加劇後，歐洲猶太難民在港的人口也與日俱增。從1939年莉亞堂會員記錄可見，除了若瑟、嘉道理、古庇、亞伯拉罕和雷蒙等巴格達猶太人，還有俄羅斯名字Monia Talan、Harry Oscar Odell (歐德禮)，及來自波蘭的Siegfried Szarfstein Ramler醫生等。
List of Subscribers and Donors to the Ohel Leah Synagogue, 1939
Assistance for Refugees
As Hitler’s persecution of Europe’s Jews became more frenzied, thousands fled to the visa-free port of Shanghai. As more and more refugees transited through Hong Kong to reach China, Hong Kong’s Jews responded by establishing the Hong Kong Jewish Refugee Society (JRS) on 20 November 1938, days after Kristallnacht. The JRS was led by Lawrence Kadoorie, Albert Raymond (Presidents), and Monia Talan (Secretary). Its members provided temporary accommodation at the Jewish Recreation Club, paid steamship passages, secured work visas, and raised funds for refugees in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Approximately 120 Jewish refugees settled in Hong Kong before the Pacific War.
Lawrence Kadoorie, President of the JRS, receives a letter of thanks from Jewish refugee families, June 1940
The Internment of ‘Enemy Aliens’
On 3 September 1939, Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. In Britain and across its empire, Austrian and German citizens were interned as ‘enemy aliens’. In Hong Kong, Austrian and German men – most of whom were Jewish refugees – were interned at La Salle College, and later released at the end of 1939. However, the fall of France and the Low Countries in May 1940 reignited fears about ‘fifth columnists’ and the colonial government ordered all ‘enemy aliens’ to leave Hong Kong in June. Out of an estimated 120 Jewish refugees, only 30 or so were permitted to remain in Hong Kong, despite the obvious anti-Nazi sympathies of this community.
英國1939年9月3 日正式向德國宣戰後，英國本土及其殖民地均視奧地利和德國公民為敵國僑民，將他們關押。在港的奧地利和德國男性 – 大部份為猶太難民 – 被關押在喇沙書院。他們在1939年底獲釋，但在法國和歐洲低地國家1940年5月淪陷後，殖民地政府對敵國僑民的不信任再度出現，即使他們同情反納粹一方，但仍下令所有敵國僑民於6月離開香港。最後120名難民之中只有30人可以留下。
Lawrence Kadoorie, President of the JRS, writes to Horace Kadoorie to request Shanghai landing permits for the Jewish refugees who had been banished from Hong Kong in June 1940
Defending Hong Kong
In 1941, two British regiments and two Canadian battalions were sent to defend Hong Kong against a likely Japanese attack. Jewish soldiers from these regiments were welcomed by an ‘Entertainment Committee’ at the Jewish Recreation Club, led by Harry Odell’s wife Sophie, as well as other Jewish women. Events organised included a Yom Kippur dinner and an ‘at-home’ meet and greet.
‘Soldiers of the Jewish Persuasion’ nominal roll for 1941
The Tragedy of War
During the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong (1941 - 1945), local Jewish residents were interned as Allied civilians and Prisoners of War; or were at liberty because of their Axis nationalities (Germany being an ally of Japan) or statelessness. An estimated 28 Jewish soldiers died defending Hong Kong, including Hebert Samuel, a statistician at CLP, and Samuel Liborwich of the Middlesex Regiment (UK).
日佔期間(1941-1945年)，本港猶太居民因其同盟國僑民身份或被拘禁或關押於戰俘營，而軸心國 (德國是日本盟友) 和無國籍的猶太人則仍有自由。約28名猶太士兵於香港保衛戰中陣亡，包括中電統計主任Hebert Samuel和英國密德薩斯軍團的Samuel Liborwich。
Dr Solomon Bard (pictured with wife Dr Sophie Bard), a Russian Jew who fought with the Hong Kong Volunteers, was interned in the Sham Shui Po POW camp during the Japanese Occupation
A Post-War Refugee Shelter
Hong Kong was liberated in August 1945. It once again became a site of transit – this time for European Jewish refugees leaving Shanghai for Australia, America, and Israel. Lawrence Kadoorie helped refugees transmigrate to new countries by providing temporary accommodation at The Peninsula Hotel, his family’s business interest, at a time when accommodation was scarce. In July 1946, nearly 300 Jewish refugees travelling to Australia became stranded at The Peninsula for six months when the Australian Government recalled one of their ships to transport troops. By January 1947, all Jewish refugees stranded in Hong Kong had reached their destination.
Jewish refugees celebrate Rosh Hashanah at The Peninsula Hong Kong in 1946
Russian Jews Leave China
There were around 10,000 Jews left in China in 1949, most of whom were stateless Russian Jews living in Shanghai, Harbin, and Tientsin. After the Soviet occupation of Manchuria in 1945 and due to increasing political instability after the war, conditions for Jews rapidly deteriorated, and most sought to leave China. In 1950, Russian Jews started to transit through Hong Kong to reach Israel in large numbers. These transmigrations were organised by the JDC, the International Refugee Organisation, and Horace Kadoorie. Many refugees were housed at The Peninsula. By 1967, there were only fifteen Jews left in Shanghai, and a handful in Harbin. In 1982, Max Leibovich, born in Russia and known as the ‘last Jew of Shanghai’, passed away.
於1949年，約有10,000猶太人留在中國，當中大部份是居於上、哈爾濱和天津的無國籍俄羅斯猶太人。蘇聯於1945年佔領滿洲，加上戰後政局動盪，很多猶太人決意離開中國。1950年，大批俄羅斯猶太人在美猶聯合救濟委員會、國際難民組織以及賀理嘉道理的協助下經香港前往以色列，當中不少人曾在半島酒店住宿。至1967年，只有15名猶太仍留在上海。生於俄羅斯，被喻為是「上海最後一位猶太人」的Max Leibovich 於1982年逝世。
Matveevs were Russian Jewish refugees from Harbin. They travelled to America via Hong Kong in 1950 with the help of the JDC and Horace Kadoorie