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Date of Award

Spring 2011

Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Carol L. Summers


Ship after ship of Jewish refugees from Germany and Eastern Europe arrived in the Shanghai harbor during the early 1930s. After a long voyage on high-end cruise liners the ship’s occupants disembarked with hardly any money in their pockets into a busy, overwhelming foreign city where they knew no one. The Shanghai Ghetto was an extraordinary diaspora community formed within an area of approximately one square mile in the Hongkew district of Japanese-occupied Shanghai. As an international city, Shanghai became a haven for refugees from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Poland who could not obtain visas to travel to other countries. This was not, however, the first influx of Jewish refugees to the city of Shanghai. An established and largely wealthy community of Baghdadi Jews had been present in the city for over a hundred years, and a more recent wave of immigration precipitated by the Russo-Japanese war brought many Russian Jews to the city. These communities were distinct from one another in cultural, economic and religious background. The incoming German and Eastern European refugees introduced yet another dynamic to this milieu, straining resources and relying significantly upon the existing Jewish communities for support. Histories of the “Shanghai ghetto” have focused on the unifying elements between these three communities, yet the differences in background and wartime experience are, in some ways, striking. Here, I examine the three unique Jewish communities in Shanghai, first addressing the Baghdadis who moved to Shanghai beginning in the mid-nineteen hundreds, then the Russian Jews who began flooding Shanghai beginning in 1919, and finally the German and Eastern European refugees who chiefly began arriving in 1937. Rather than being unified by a shared ethnicity and fate, they came from vastly different cultural experiences and experienced different treatment at the hands of the Japanese, which contributed both to their self-conception and self-representation.