The Polish Jews of Shanghai and the Political Sociology of Historical Memory

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Holocaust Studies, 2013, 19 (2), pp. 27 - 64
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© 2013, copyright 2013 Vallentine Mitchell. The political sociology of historical memory directs our attention to the ways and functions of memorialising significant periods in national histories. This essay examines the survival of the Polish Jews of Shanghai, overwhelmingly escapees from the first few weeks of the Nazi-Soviet War in Poland, as it now appears in memorialising institutions along their escape route. About 1,000 Polish Jews went to Shanghai in the period from 1940, many sent there from Japan, to which they had escaped via Lithuania and the USSR. Their community was riven by all the challenges of the pre-war communities of Polin, developing a variety of practices to manage their survival on the edge of the Holocaust. The essay draws on four data sources: the ‘Sugihara’ list detailing people given authentic transit visas for Japan; a Polish consulate list from Shanghai in 1942; a ‘Shanghai Ghetto’ list collected by the Japanese police in 1944; and the records of the Shanghai Polish Mutual Aid Society. It explores the implications of class, gender and politics for the community and its interaction with the other Jewish communities of the city. It then reviews how the issues of nation, belonging and recognition surface in present-day narratives about this group.
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