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Ohel Moishe Synagogue

Add:62 Changyang Rd

Tel:021-6541 5008

Time:9am-5pm (last entry at 4:30pm)

2012-08-23

Tilanqiao area, once known as Little Vienna in the city’s northeast Hongkou District, has survived war and urban renovation and its remarkable story may prove to be its salvation as Shanghai weighs the value of historical preservation.

In the late 1930s, during the Second World War, more than 20,000 Jews fleeing Nazi rule arrived in Shanghai. Drawn by its open-door policy, they joined earlier waves of Jewish migrants to the city. Later, during Japanese occupation, Jewish refugees were confined to Tilanqiao’s brick tenements, but spared further repression.

The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum on Changyang Road was built in memory of that period of time. It is housed in the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue where the Jewish refugees gathered for religious activities. The museum holds many scrolls and other cultural relics.

The original Ohel Moshe synagogue was founded in 1907 and moved to its current site in 1927. It was a synagogue for Orthodox Russian and German Jews. The synagogue was also once the headquarters of the Jewish Youth Organization.

Between 1937 and 1941, Shanghai was the only city in the world which did not refuse Jews. The number of Jewish refugees that Shanghai took in was equal to the total taken in by Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa. “Ohel Moshe Synagogue” became a synonym for “rescue” and “refuge.”

The Jewish refugees lived a free and peaceful life around the former synagogue. Between the end of the Second World War II and 1960s, many left China and emigrated to all parts of the world, and Shanghai’s Jewish population dropped to nearly zero. Today, the Jewish community numbers only about 200, mostly foreign business people.

In the autumn of 1986, a group who once lived in Shanghai revisited the place. Feeling an immense gratitude towards the people of Shanghai for their help, they presented a plaque to the District Government, inscribed, “20,000 Jewish refugees were survived in Shanghai during the Second World War. To all the survivors and friendly Chinese people, we dedicate this plaque.”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited the museum in 1993. He left these words in the guestbook” “The Jewish people were protected by Shanghai people when they were murdered and driven out by Nazis and wandered in the world. The Israeli Government, Jewish people and I thank them for their help from the bottom of our heart.”

Being an important part of Shanghai Jewish jeritage, in the beginning of 2004, the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue was acknowledged as an excellent historical building and Hongkou District declared it to be a protected cultural relic site.

Now, converted into the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, the three-story brick building has been restored to its original state, overlooking residences and shops of the former Hongkou ghetto. Its walls are painted grey, barred with lines of red bricks. The ornamentally engraved doors are wide open for visitors to walk into the quiet main hall.

The first floor houses the sanctuary where visitors can still see the original mosaic floors and the ark. The walls and pillars of the baroque, stone-arched doorway have been repainted. Only the floor tiles are left from the time of Jewish occupation, with new chairs and pendant lamps. The Old pictures of halls and houses built by merchant David Sassoon hang on the walls. Next to the sanctuary, in the synagogue’s former kitchen, is a showroom for Jewish art exhibits.

The second floor of the building is divided into two rooms. One contains a gallery of photos and stories from the ghetto along with photos of former Jewish residents who returned for a visit. The room shows more than 100 photos and sculptures, while a short movie detailing Jewish history in Shanghai is played on a multi-screen video system. The second room, with a large conference table and a selection of books on the history of Jews in China, is used as a lecture hall and library.

Finally, the third floor, the attic, is home to an exhibit of articles from refugee families, furniture and a brief account of a Mr Levinsky, who lived in the room in the 1930s.

The museum is further developing the story of the synagogue with more interactive content. An interactive database was launched in June, 2008 in a bid to complete the list of Jewish refugees who fled Europe to Shanghai and were granted asylum around the Tilanqiao area. So far, 14,800 names have been stored in the database.

The names include those that museum management collected from memoirs and historical materials as well as those supplied by overseas visitors to the museum. A computer linked to the database is available for free use.

The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum has been working on collecting more artifacts and artwork from Shanghai and overseas since 2007 to enrich the facility’s exhibits and better document this important part of the city’s history. 

“Witnesses to this history, including the Jews who used to live in Shanghai and the old Shanghai residents, are passing on. So we need to gather precious historical evidence such as photos and papers as quickly as possible to add to our exhibits,” said Chen Jian, the museum’s curator.

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