[Access article in PDF]
Port of Last Resort examines the history of two large groups of foreigners in Shanghai, the Slavs and the Jews, who far outnumbered the members of the British, American, and French communities who ruled the foreign enclaves of the city. Marcia Reynders Ristaino differentiates between and among the Slavic and Jewish communities, not only in terms of national or ethnic origins, but also in terms of the varying historical forces that resulted in the choice of Shanghai principally as a haven. She distinguishes among the wealthy Sephardic Jews who arrived from Baghdad in the nineteenth century in hopes of finding good business opportunities, the Jews who left Russia following the pogroms at the beginning of the twentieth century, as well as the more than 1,000 Orthodox Jews from Poland, the Baltic Jews, and the roughly 15,000 highly assimilated German and Austrian Jews who barely escaped the Nazi terror. [End Page 115] The diverse Slavic communities included anti-Bolshevik White Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, and, in smaller numbers, Byelorussians, Czechs, and Slovaks.
Only one place, at least until August 1939, required from refugees neither visas nor police certificates, neither affidavits nor assurance of financial independence: the open port of Shanghai. No country was authorized to exercise passport control, as the city was not under the jurisdiction of China or any other single power. The International Settlement seemed a viable option for desperate Europeans, despite the fact that they knew hardly anything about China, and what they did know was not at all favorable. After the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, the Japanese occupied parts of the city. Immigration to Shanghai was de facto regulated by the Japanese Navy, since they controlled the harbor.
Ristaino shares the view of those who argue that German influence on Japanese decision-making towards the Shanghai Jews was not as significant as previously thought. On the contrary, the Japanese elaborated their own independent solution tothe "Jewish problem" as part of their efforts to establish control over the foreign population of Shanghai. Control measures imposed on the foreign community by the Japanese included a census in the French Concession, the introduction of the baojia system (or Civilian Vigilance Corps) in both the International Settlement and the French Concession, the internment of enemy nationals, and a restricted area for stateless refugees. The February 18, 1943, proclamation establishing the restricted area did not discuss Jews in general (the word "Jew" was not used at all), as not all Jews were subjected to the new regulations and forced to live in the ghetto. "Stateless refugees" referred only to those who had arrived in Shanghai since 1937 and who had lost their citizenship by 1943. Although the proclamation was meant to target the European Jews, those who arrived before 1937, including most of the Russian Jews, were not subjected to internment and remained free of restrictions.
Almost all Jewish refugees who escaped to Shanghai survived the Holocaust. So we have every right to raise the question: why did only 20,000 make it to Shanghai? Ristaino details the attitude of the local British, American, French, and Japanese authorities; their fears of an influx of penniless European refugees who depended onlocal and international aid; and the opposition of local, European, and American Jewish leaders.
The author has consulted a wide range of sources, including archival documents, interviews with former refugees, newspapers and periodicals published in Shanghai, and secondary literature. One of the strongest points is Ristaino's extensive use of the investigation files of the Shanghai Municipal Police, the law enforcement agency of the International Settlement. The original records, produced between 1894 and 1944, were given to the Americans by the Nationalist Chinese garrison commander in the spring of 1949, when Communist forces were approaching Shanghai. David Kranzler, whose book Japanese, Nazis & Jews (1976) has been considered a classic on the history of the Jews...