Making History in Shanghai

In the spring of 2013 Professors Yun Xia and Kevin Ostoyich won an ASIANetwork grant to take students on a summer research trip to Shanghai. While there the Valparaiso University team investigated the history of Shanghai’s Jewish refugees during WWII. When the rest of the world shut its doors to Europe’s Jews, Shanghai became a last place of refuge. Roughly 20,000 Jews fled Europe and established a vibrant community in Shanghai. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the fate of Shanghai’s Jews became more precarious. Then in 1943 the Japanese occupying forces of Shanghai set up a ghetto in the Hongkou section of the city for all stateless persons (under which category the Jewish refugees fell). In recent years, the history of Shanghai’s Jewish refugee population, in general, and the Hongkou Ghetto, in particular, have become subjects of increasing interest to Western and Chinese scholars alike. Particularly important in the promotion of awareness of the Shanghai Jews has been the research conducted by scholars at the Center of Jewish Studies Shanghai and the exhibitions presented at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum has become instrumental in promoting international awareness of the Shanghai Jewish community (it has hosted such international leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin; German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder; German President, Johannes Rau; and former U. S. First Lady, Hillary Clinton).

Shanghai Group

The subject of the Shanghai Jewish refugees brings together the history of Europe and Asia and, as such, the team was headed by a specialist in Modern German history, Prof. Ostoyich, and a specialist of Chinese and Japanese history, Prof. Xia. Six students, Kaley Buck, Angela Elliot, Aura Lee Harper-Smith, Trace Ostergren and Peter Keim, each looked into an aspect of the history of the Shanghai Jewish community, and each narrowed down their topics during the one-month research visit. In addition, the whole group conducted research on the present-day commemoration of the history of the Shanghai Jews.