In the spring of 1938, a month after the annexation of Austria to Germany, the Anschluss, Austrian Jews were deported to Dachau and Buchenwald Concentration Camps. At the time, there were about 185,000 Jews in Austria, and they had two choices, either flee the country or be deported to the Camps. However, it was not an easy task for most as the Nazis required Jews exiting the country to hold an entry visa to the country.
Ho Feng-Shan was the consul-general in Vienna during this dark period. He went against his superior’s order and issued visas for the Jews looking to escape. It was unnecessary for anyone to get a visa to enter China, but Nazis needed the Jews escaping to get a visa to make it more difficult, and Ho Feng-Shan complied. By June 1938, he issued the 200th visa, and by October 27th, 1938, he had issued the 1906th visa. He issued thousands of visas for those who sought to escape persecution. Each person left with up to ten Deutschmarks, about $4.17 today, which was the maximum that Nazis allowed them.
The refugees from Vienna arrived in wartorn Shanghai and settled in Hongkou District starting 1938. Hongkou eventually became the “Shanghai Ghetto,” housing the fleeing refugees at a time when no one else would take them in. Countries such as the United States and Canada were very reluctant to take any refugees. A Canadian official stated, “None is too many,” when he was asked how many Jewish refugees his country would take.
Although the idea of taking in Jewish refugees was noble, it was hard in practice. Resources in Shanghai was already scarce due to the Sino-Japanese War, especially after the Battle of Shanghai(August 13th- November 12th, 1937). After three months of the war, Chinese refugees moved into the International settlement as well. Along with the 20,000 Jews that fled to Shanghai, the Shanghai population peaked at 700,000. It is also documented that about 30 people would fit into a room in the Shanghai Ghetto.
Since most refugees had so little to bring to their new homes, most required help from JDC for their livelihood, the refugee community relied heavily on the overstrained relief funds, soup kitchens, and overcrowded public accommodations facilities for their survivals. According to JDC, the soup kitchen served 8500 refugees twice a day. Eventually, they started feeding 10,000 people a day.
Some eventually started doing business with locals and learned Chinese. However, most saw their time in China as a temporary shelter and started leaving immediately as soon as the war was over. JDC had helped 16,000 Jews emigrate from China.
One can still see the remnants of the Jewish community in Shanghai in the Hongkou neighborhood. The closest metro station is Tilanqiao station.