The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) is proud to partner with the Confucius Institute at the University of Minnesota and the Sabes Jewish Community Center to present Jewish Refugees in Shanghai (1933-1941): A Journey of hope for more than 18,000 Jews to China, an international exhibit telling the stories of European Jews who immigrated to Shanghai to escape Nazi persecution.

Jewish Refugees in Shanghai (1933-1941) is a traveling exhibit created by the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum, telling the human story of Jews who escaped Nazi persecution by fleeing to Shanghai, where they lived for many years as stateless refugees. From 1933-1941, Shanghai opened its doors to Jewish refugees fleeing persecution and war in Europe, transforming into an “open city for Jews” at a time when much of the rest of the world was closed.

History is brought to life with photos and artifacts from the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum and personal stories from “Shanghailanders,” the term given to this group of Jewish refugees. The Minnesota showcase of the exhibit is enhanced with additional stories from four “Shanghailanders” with deep Minnesota connections. The traveling exhibit has given communities around the world an opportunity to learn about this significant, but little-known story about Jewish immigration and settlement in China.

For the opening of the “Jewish Refugees in Shanghai (1933-1941)” exhibit at the Sabes JCC, I witnessed a very sweet and poignant moment.  Shanghailander Kurt Hort (nee Horwitz) was introduced to China's Consul General (Chicago) Zhao Weiping.  (An earlier time period was set aside for the Shanghailanders – Kurt Hort, Many Gabler, Helen Bix and Ellen Wiss – to view the exhibit in the company of the Consul General.)  Kurt told the Consul General: “Shanghai saved my life.”  Thus was the headline/thesis statement/encapsulation of the exhibit which will be displayed through May 7th at the Sabes JCC.  Consul General Zhao Weiping reflected on the exhibit on the Consulate’s website.

Consul General Zhao Weiping greeting Kurt Hort

Attendees at the opening night of the exhibit (Photo by Erin Smith)


(Photo by Erin Smith)


Artifacts featured in the exhibit (Photo by Erin Smith)


The JCRC is fortunate to have collaborated with the Confucius Institute at the University of Minnesota (CIUMN), its Executive Director Joan Brezinski, and its wonderful staff.  Representing the entire University’s deep interest in the exhibit and programming was the presence and remarks of Provost Karen Hanson.

From L to R: Steve Hunegs, Consul General Zhao Weiping, and Joan Brzezinski, Executive Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Minnesota.


Working with the greater Chinese community and the committee leadership of Federal magistrate judge Tony Leung and Judge Gail Chang Bohr has been a pleasure.  Thank you to Judge Leung for providing remarks at the opening reception.  We express great appreciation to Greg Hugh – publisher of ChinaInsight newspaper – for his extensive coverage of the exhibit and the collaboration between the Jewish and Chinese communities.  This positive profiling continued with the front page, top-of-the-fold placement of the story in the March edition of the newspaper.  We also thank Ms. Ming Tschou for her deeply generous financial support of the exhibit.  (Ms. Tschou is founder of the China Heritage Foundation and lived in Shanghai in the 1930s.)

The Honorable Tony Leung speaking at the exhibit opening (Photo by Erin Smith)


The presence of Honorary Consul Generals Gary Gandrud (Norway) and Christa Tiefenbacher-Hudson (Germany) honored the exhibit and helped to welcome diplomatically Consul General Weiping.

The Jewish refugees and the Chinese had great relations and anti-Semitism was not an issue.  Sadly, the Chinese suffered terribly at the hands of the Japanese who committed unspeakable atrocities against the Chinese people.

Education went forward for Jewish students despite sometimes difficult economic circumstances – both Manny Gabler and Helen Bix reported their experience of attending school in the United States and being well ahead of their peers attesting to the rigor of their education in the Hangkow ghetto.

From L to R: Steve Hunegs, Manny Gabler, and Ellen Wiss (Photo by Erin Smith)


Helen Bix Skyping in from Florida (Photo by Erin Smith)


Jewish philanthropy in Shanghai was critical to meeting the needs of the thousands of Jewish refugees, many of whom were impecunious.  The sources were the Sephardic community families such as Sassoon and Kedoorie; and American relief such as the Joint Distribution Community (Kurt Hort and Manny Gabler recognized the indefatigable efforts of Laura Margolis, who, to this day, remembered her presence vividly).  The Russian Jewish community – many of whom had settled in Shanghai after the Russian Revolution – gave of their means to their fellow Jews.

The bashert (Yiddish for “meant to be”) nature of our Jewish works was reflected in stories emerging from the opening of the reception.  None of the Shanghailanders had met each other previously and/or had a significant relationship.  Yet Manny Gabler, Kurt Hort and Ellen Wiss soon discovered in conversation on the opening night in the hallways of the Sabes JCC that all three had lived within three or four blocks of each other in the Hangkow ghetto.  Ellen Wiss and Manny Gabler likely traveled to the United States from Shanghai aboard the same ship.

Following up on the opening reception for the Shanghailanders exhibit, please keep in mind the public lecture of Prof. Xu Xin of Nanjing University on April 13, 2015, at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.  Prof. Xu Xin is the seminal figure for Jewish and Holocaust studies in China – a remarkable story in and of itself.

Jewish Refugees in Shanghai (1933-1941) is a collaborative community effort to share information about the unique experiences of Jewish refugees in Shanghai during World War II.  This exhibit is organized by the Confucius Institute at the University of Minnesota, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, and the Sabes JCC. Additional partners include the University of Minnesota Center for Jewish Studies, the University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Tolerance Minnesota, and the St. Paul JCC.