Jewish Refugees in China

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk




Driven by hatred/anti-Semitism, death threats and annihilation, the few Jewish people that still existed in Germany and Austria escaped to Shanghai.  All of their earthly goods except a few heirlooms accompanied these pathetic travelers to a culture that they could not understand.  They were cramped into a small slum area without drinking water, with no cooking utensils, no appliances, no freedom, and barely enough unsanitary food morsels to keep their skeletal bodies together.  They could not speak the language, could not be understood, were torn from an alleged civilized culture to unspeakable hardships and degradation.  

A brutal Japanese guard acted as Nazi and brutally made the “laws” as he felt to make them for that day.  Any morsel of anything that remained these Jewish people were confiscated by this Mongolian Monster.  The immigrants had to learn to rub pieces of stone and other objects together to make a fire.  Many died from typhoid and other contagious diseases during their stay at their “new land of opportunity.”  Fear, hunger, diseases, and despair became a part of their daily existence.  A half handful of rice and some cold vegetation were choked down to keep their frail bodies together.  Thinking about their tortured and annihilated mothers, fathers, siblings were a part of their daily thoughts, accompanying them in their struggles to survive.

As time went on in the very early 1940s, their life became an iota better until the Japanese took over, when brutality and inhumanity reared its ugly head.  Bombs began to fall, the makeshift housing that the Jewish people lived in were destroyed, and the daily annihilation of their remaining co-religionists became more frequent  in the ghetto that was their space.  Dust and debris were in the nostrils of the inhabitants and even breathing became a chore and a reminder of upcoming demise.  Screams of the Schema prayer were not an unusual sound emanating from the throat of the dying remnants of Jewish humanity.  

The survivors that remained after the American victory following Pearl Harbor and the resulting atomic bond reprisal freed the handful of Jews remaining in the Chinese misery that had been their space since their escape from Europe.  The few aged Jews that had entered China died not too long after their arrival.  Their “children” (young adults) had to bear the pain of their untimely deaths, had to witness their burials, and lived with the undeserved guilt and pain and lack of knowledge as to what exactly had happened to their families left behind to become victims of torture and gas ovens in Austria, Germany, and other European countries.  The few young couples that survived lost babies from typhoid and other contagious disease outbreaks.  Sanitary conditions did not exist in the China in which they had to exist.

There were a very small number that survived the misery of their oriental surroundings and were somehow, through relatives in other lands, to immigrate to Canada, Australia, America, etc. and to start yet another life, were and are forever accompanied by the memories of their sufferings and the deaths of those near and dear to them.

Let us stand together, help one another, ascertain that we don’t choose or excuse those who would care to besmirch or annihilate us, let us be sisters and brothers who stand together to keep us safe and protected from our persecutors and those that would be happy to destroy us for their own gains.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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